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Gangs and rising Western Washington gun violence

Seattle police investigate the scene of a shooting in Columbia City after gun fire came from two vehicles June 5, 2017. (KIRO 7 image)

While gangs are certainly a factor in the rise of gun violence across Western Washington, King County Sheriff John Urquhart says not all shootings can be blamed on gang activity.

“Gang members are certainly committing much of the gun violence that we are seeing, but that does not necessarily mean the violence is gang related,” Urquhart said. “By that I mean the shootings aren’t always related to the traditional battles of turf wars or selling drugs.”

RELATED: Cops team up to fight rise in Western Washington gun violence

“Much of the violence we are seeing stems from personal vendettas between gang members,” he said. “That could mean someone disrespected another or perhaps stole someone else’s girlfriend. So while gang members are certainly involved, that does not mean the violence is in furtherance of any one gang every time.”

Western Washington gun violence

Gun violence has increased in both King and Pierce Counties this year. On June 5, for example, a woman shot and killed another woman during an argument at a house party in White Center. Later that day, in a separate incident, shots were fired from two vehicles in Columbia City.

The Seattle City Council responded to gun violence with a gun and ammo tax in 2016. But just as firearm customers are not confined to Seattle, neither are gangs.

“We have brought the hammer down on gang violence in Pierce County, it’s down 60 percent,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist recently told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don. “What that has meant is some of them have left Dodge, and they’ve left Pierce County and they’ve come north to King (County).”

Det. Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office echoes Lindquist’s point about gun violence crossing borders.

“We have specific people that do nothing but work gang members and tell on their crimes,” Troyer said. “As these crimes continue to happen, I can tell you that Federal Way and Seattle are probably doing the same thing, too. They probably know a lot of these crimes are tied together and there are specific people involved.”

“Once you have a crime against one specific group of people it’s not going to end,” he said. “Because all of a sudden you set into motion that the other side has to get even. Then you’re going to find drive by shootings, you’re going to find housing getting shot up. You’re going to find houses accidentally shot up because somebody used to live there.”

“We have a lot of those (shootings) because gang members nowadays are very nomadic,” Troyer added. “They have cars. They are not 20 guys standing in matching shirts on the street corner anymore. They are in vehicles and moving from county to county, and city to city.”

A little relief for law enforcement and residents came in the form of arrests in South King County on Wednesday. Police say they arrested three people — including two teens — who were behind a series of shootings in Seattle and Kent. The group targeted homes and cars, including one house where they mistakenly believed a rival gang member lived.

Investigators say the group is behind at least four shootings in April and May, including one in Belltown that severely injured an older man out delivering newspapers with his wife. In April, two of the suspects also allegedly shot up a home in Kent using an AK-47 they purchased that same day. Authorities describe the incident as a “thrill killing.” No one was hurt during the shooting.

Neighbors say they’re glad to hear about the arrests.

“I feel safer a little bit. But who’s the next person in line that’s going to make bad decisions like that,” Steve Coleman told KIRO 7.

Police say the three often shot at people they mistakenly believed to be rival gang members. But at least two of them opened fire on a Kent family in April in what investigators describe as an attempted thrill killing.

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