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King County, Seattle responds to rise in gang violence, shootings

Firefighters treated an adult woman and a toddler with serious injuries after units responded to a report of shots fired in the 8400 block of 55th Avenue South in may 2019. (KIRO 7)

Three people, including two children, were hit by gunfire at what should have been a safe place to celebrate Memorial Day. Monday’s Pritchard Beach Park shooting stems from larger issues of guns, gangs, and violence on the rise in Seattle.

It was a beautiful Memorial Day at Pritchard Beach Park in South Seattle. It was packed with families and friends enjoying the holiday. Around 7 p.m., the sunny day turned tragic and terrifying as people hit the ground or ran from gunfire.

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Amid the flying bullets, a 27-year-old mother hid in the back of her car in a parking lot where two groups were shooting at each other. She had her 10-month-old baby girl with her — both were hit by stray bullets. The mother and child remain at Harborview Medical Center.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan commented the following day.

“Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer, but nationwide it’s always been that weekend when there are more shootings than any other time,” she said. “We had hoped that Seattle had broken the trend. But we saw, unfortunately, late yesterday that wasn’t the case. My thoughts are with the people who were innocent bystanders in a car who got hurt.”

Durkan said then that the Seattle Police Department was already making good progress in its investigation. This week, Durkan said that progress continues.

“Some of the early leads, even from the shootings yesterday, are very promising,” she said. “We believe they are connected to some of the other incidents of violence and gunshots that we’ve had.”

Gang related Seattle shootings

Deputy Police Chief Mark Garth Greene elaborated further on the Pritchard Beach Park incident and the string of recent Seattle shootings.

“We believe it’s probably gang involved,” he said. “Some of the vehicle descriptions are very similar to other vehicle descriptions of other shootings we’ve had in the city. And so a lot of times these are related. We are working with ATF to trace the shell casings to see which shootings marry up with each other to aid with the investigation as well.”

What is known is that two groups in separate cars starting shooting at one another in the parking area at Pritchard Beach Park. Police aren’t releasing any suspect information or vehicle descriptions to the public at this time. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call them.

Mayor Durkan says this latest shooting is just one of many that investigators are looking at which are linked to gangs.

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“We’ve seen over the last number of months a number of shootings in the Central District and Rainier Valley,” Durkan said. “It’s also continuing over the border — Kent, Renton, White Center, South Park … Burien as well.”

“We believe, as the police have indicated, that there is a number of rival gangs that are having some turf issues,” she said.

The captain of Seattle’s south precinct says he’s extremely concerned about the increase in gun violence in his area. South Seattle has experienced a 65 percent increase in shots-fired calls since this time last year. Over the past month, there has been more than one reported shooting each day somewhere in Seattle. Many of these shootings have been drive-bys with, luckily, nobody getting hurt.

To address this, the south precinct captain is deploying a dedicated shots-fired emphasis unit on the streets in Rainier Valley between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. The hope is that this will provide visible deterrence to would-be shooters.

King County shootings

Sgt. Ryan Abbott at the King County Sheriff’s Office says it’s similar to what they’ve been doing on weekends since the beginning of May.

“We have some emphasis patrols that have been really focusing on some of the higher crime areas in White Center and Burien area,” Abbott said. “We have staffed overtime cars and their specific goal is to find on-view activity or something that appears to be a crime that maybe is happening, or just people who seem like they don’t belong and they’re up to something and we’re going to be out contacting them.”

“We want to be seen, and we want to be enforcing laws and that’s exactly what they are doing,” he said. “And it’s been helping.”

He says crime is down in areas where King County has placed extra patrols. The sheriff’s office will be keeping those patrols active through the summer and beyond.

But Mayor Durkan says that community engagement is key in neighborhoods hit hard by gun violence and gangs.

“The number one thing we can do ahead of this is really to be providing those proactive strategies that are about community engagement,” Mayor Durkan said. “And making sure that communities are the first front line to make sure that there are ways to resolve conflicts other than through violence and to provide opportunity, particularly for youth, and be trying a whole range of different things to engage people that may be on different sides of the conflict in a way that is not conflict based, and before there has to be a criminal justice intervention.”

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