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‘It’s becoming an issue’ A look at gang violence in Pueblo teens after attempted murder arrests

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- In the last week, Pueblo Police have arrested five teens tied to violent crimes, namely drive-by shootings at homes across the City of Pueblo. The Pueblo Police Department said these crimes are allegedly being perpetuated by teens associated with known and dangerous gangs in the city; Feed the Family and the East Side Dukes.

13 Investigates spoke with Mark Salazar, a former gang member turned founder of the non-profit Hardknox Gang Prevention. He works daily to interact with at-risk youth who may be susceptible to joining a gang.

"Unfortunately, a lot of these youngsters are being misguided, misdirected, you know, there you know, and then they got to realize that the streets don't love them. They only take them away from the people that do. So there's nothing out here on the streets but a coffin and a court date," Salazar said.

Salazar works to meet these teens where they are while sharing his story of being in prison for nearly a decade, convicted of assault with a deadly weapon at 19 years old. Since his release, he has regularly met with teens who are being housed at the Pueblo Youth Center after being arrested for violent crimes.

"We actually have an evidence-based curriculum that we utilize, that we work with these individuals. I share a little bit about myself to let them know that I've been there, done that. I'm there to help them identify their strengths and their weaknesses," Salazar said.

Court documents obtained by 13 Investigates reveal these five attempted murder arrests are tied to a series of drive-by shootings by young teens in these two gangs. The shootings happened between November 2022 and April 2023.

In late April, 13 Investigates spoke with Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner and his senior Deputy District Attorney Anne Mayer. They sounded the alarm on the reduced amount of beds available for pre-trial detention of violent juveniles at the Pueblo Youth Center. Due to legislative changes in recent years, they only have 10 beds available for youth charged with violent crimes.

At that time, the center was at capacity and was having to release several violent teens back into the community. Now, with these five teens being charged, this problem has only been exacerbated.

"We have to release somebody who may have been involved in significant criminal activity on the same level as the person we're trying to put in," Chostner said.

Chostner said there is support at the state level to give the Pueblo Youth Center four more beds. However, the District Attorney says that will only serve as a temporary fix to a much larger problem.

"I think the reduction over the last decade has either been because of judicial philosophy in the state legislature or it's been a financial matter. Either way, Pueblo County has suffered in how we handle serious youthful offenders," Chostner said.

Pueblo PD said they typically do not name specific gangs when teens are arrested for violent crimes, but due to a recent uptick in violent behavior, they now want the public to know that they are diligently working to combat violence in teens.

"We don't like to highlight what these gangs do, but in this case, it was becoming an issue. We wanted to let the public know that we're dealing with this issue and we're dealing with these juveniles that are committing these serious crimes," Pueblo PD Sgt. Franklyn Ortega said.

The alarming thing for Pueblo PD is how these recent series of drive-by shootings played out. Many of the shootings weren't gang-on-gang violence. According to court documents, some of these shootings stemmed from a boy allegedly retaliating against his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

Other shootings involved at least one party who didn't have a gang affiliation.

"There's been times where they think of opposing gang member lives and it turns out that person don't live there. They don't even have a connection to that house," Sgt. Ortega said.

Salazar said it "saddened him" to see nearly a half-dozen teens fall "victim to the system." He hopes to speak with those who were recently arrested and hear their stories and attempt to work with them. That work includes helping them see that gang life is not life to live.

Related Story: Crimes affiliated with gangs on the rise in Pueblo

"A lot of people grow up in broken homes and things of that nature and are underprivileged. It's something that can be prevented if our community would set our differences to the side and turn to each other," Salazar said.

The names of the teens arrested in the last week were not released publicly. Unless they are charged as an adult at a later age, releasing their names would violate Colorado law.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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