TURLOCK -- Last weekend a suspected Sureño gang member walking down South Soderquist Road was shot in the belly with a .45-caliber handgun.
Ten days earlier on South Rose Street, a home known to police for gang activity was riddled with bullets. Eleven shell casings were found in the road. One bullet missed a toddler's leg by less than two feet.
Three days before that, on an unusually warm Saturday, two brothers from Newman with suspected Sureño gang ties were shot in the arm, hand and neck at the Regal Turlock Stadium 14 cinema on West Main Street.
When it comes to gang violence, the same violence that has gripped Modesto in recent days, Turlock is at a tipping point.
Never miss a local story.
"We're on the cusp of being very bad or controlling it," said Mayor John Lazar. "My goal is to get a grip on the problem and move these people out of the community."
Last summer, Turlock saw an unprecedented number of shootings. June, July and August averaged about 20 shootings each month, said Police Chief Gary Hampton. From that gunplay, only three people were injured. This year, tallying three gunshot injuries in April alone, police and politicians are bracing for summer with some trepidation.
Jokes about Turlock gangsters having terrible aim no longer seem appropriate.
"They're not targeting cars parked on the street anymore," Hampton said. "They're targeting people, they're targeting each other."
If last year's frequency matches last month's intensity, the city is in for a long, violent summer. But police, the school district, Modesto Junior College, business leaders, psychologists, nonprofits, and state probation and parole departments are battling the trend. They're working together on the daunting task of neutralizing gang activity.
The Mayor's Gang Task Force, which has been meeting regularly since May, will present a package of programs to the City Council in June aimed at educating parents and providing youngsters with alternatives to gang life.
"We can turn up the heat on gang members," Hampton said, "but alone it isn't a very sophisticated approach."
For two weeks, the task force has been meeting with parents on Turlock's Westside. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday. At-risk families, identified through the school district, have been asked into the closed-door sessions to answer survey questions and discuss ways the city and police can help.
"It's not a law enforcement event," said Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson, "it's a community event."
Latinos make up an estimated 87 percent of gang members in Stanislaus County, and the bulk of the violence stems from tensions between the Norteños and Sureños, the Northerners and Southerners, which started as factions in the state prison system.
But Latino communities, such as Turlock's Westside, no longer bear the sole burden of gang influence. Property crimes such as auto thefts and gang-related graffiti have crept across the city. Hampton said stealing a car is part of gang initiation in Turlock and the affluent northeast side of town is no longer free of gangland taggings.
By working with parents who, Lazar said, often are single, holding down more than one job and fighting to pay the rent, the city hopes to tailor existing parks and recreation programs to better suit at-risk kids. A teen center and boxing program will help, the mayor said. Job training and after-school work opportunities are essential. So is remedial gang education, to answer questions as basic as 'What is a gang?'
"The gangbanger who wants to buy them a Slurpee at the 7-Eleven -- we need to teach that 8-year-old the gangbanger doesn't necessarily want to be your friend and that Slurpee isn't necessarily free," Hampton said.
The programs will target junior high school kids, who have the fewest programs up and running and are the prime age for gang recruitment, he said.
In the same three weeks that Turlock saw three people injured, Modesto had three people injured and three people killed. Gang enforcement officers have saturated half the city since April 25, when a 14-year-old San Jose boy was killed and his 15-year-old friend wounded, and a 22-month-old boy seriously injured in a separate shooting.
Education, an abundance of programs geared for teens and close work with at-risk families are the only ways to stem the tide, according to Turlock officials. Gang living is a deep-rooted problem that requires a deep fix.
At one of the first Mayor's Gang Task Force meetings, a picture of another small boy, about 10 months old, circulated through the room. The infant was dressed in a red shirt with a Norteño logo, sunglasses and a red bandana. Resting on his stomach was a .45-caliber handgun.
"That," Lazar said, "is what we're dealing with."