Gang Violence in Small Town America; Blood Stained Lives and Innocent Victims

Thousands of people have been murdered just south of the border in Mexico as drug gangs compete for territory. Decapitated corpses, mass graves, innocent victims; all common now on our news media from Northern Mexico. We cross our fingers and hope it won’t slowly infiltrate our own country.

But it already has.

I grew up in Eastern Washington, more specifically, the Yakima Valley, a rural agricultural area; you can grow anything there. Almost any type of fruit tree flourishes as do a variety of vegetables. Livestock are easily tended on the lush grasses and there are numerous dairies. It’s a Garden of Eden.

Well, at least it used to be. For more than a decade, this oasis has slowly degenerated into ground zero for gang violence.

The city of Sunnyside and the surrounding area, in the heart of the Yakima Valley where I grew up, has become a killing field. It is an area where gang violence, including the murder of innocent victims, is commonplace and expected.

A 17 year old girl, Diana Lopez, opened the door to her residence in the small, unincorporated town of Outlook and was shot and killed. Three days later, a 17 year-old boy who lived at the same residence as LOPEZ was arrested at the Sunnyside High School for weapons related charges unrelated to her murder. This 17 year old boy was already a convicted felon. Damned by her family due to their involvement in gangs, she was an aspiring veterinarian and shied away from gang involvement. Her future, if she had survived long enough to escape, would have been bright. Now she is an innocent victim whose families’ involvement in gangs killed her.

Although the population of Sunnyside is just over 15,000 residents, six murders occurred within the city limits in 2010. By less than half way through 2011, they have had two within the city limits including the murder of a 17 year-old boy.

Reports of Drive-By Shootings barely get a raised eyebrow as the community is so plagued and sadly accustomed to them.

The following incidents all occurred on a Monday in the lower Yakima Valley just a few weeks prior to the murder of the 16 year-old.

In Sunnyside, a 16 year old girl was shot in the back while she lay in bed. Multiple shots were fired from an Assault Rifle and it is believed that the 16 year old victim was not the intended target. Yet, Sunnyside authorities state that her brothers are suspected gang members. This was a predictor of the violence that would kill Diana Lopez a few weeks later in a similar attack.

In the small, unincorporated community of Outlook, only a couple of miles from Sunnyside, four subjects wearing their gang’s colors, opened fire with an Assault Rifle and other lethal firearms on a house of a suspected rival gang member and his family. Dozens of rounds were fired. A mother and her small children slept in the house as it was riddled with bullets. Because of pure luck, no one was seriously injured. Three of the four gang members who were arrested a short while later had extensive criminal records with the oldest, 32, having eight felony convictions, and the next two a 28 year-old and a 20 year-old with three felony convictions apiece.

These incidents are common in the Yakima Valley for the last few years. 2011 isn’t much different from previous years and Google searches for gang related violence brings up various reports from previous years.

Like the residents of Juarez, Mexico where drug cartel violence is all too common, the residents of the Yakima Valley have become acclimated to the horrendous violence, hoping that the violence will be limited to those persons involved in gangs and not cross over to the rest of the community. Some people have moved away to safer areas such as Spokane where the population is much larger yet there is little gang violence and almost no drive-by shootings. But many have made the small communities home and moving away isn’t a viable option.

Big cities have been plagued with gang violence for decades. A shooting between gangs in Los Angeles or similarly large cities is common and doesn’t draw much attention unless there are innocent bystanders or some other extenuating factor.

But for small town America, such as the small communities in the Yakima Valley and other rural areas of the United States, escalating gang violence should be unacceptable. Yet the communities and the press virtually accept the ever-increasing gang violence as a cost of doing business in the community.

Yakima Herald Republic, “Girl gunned down at Outlook home”
Sunnyside Police Department Public Information Officer/News releases,
Kvew TV “17 year-old boy arrested for weapons charges”
Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, Press Releases.

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