Angelica Guillen and her husband fear that their children will be lured from the safety of their west Modesto home and become trapped in the violent world of gangs.
That is why the parents of three children, ages 6 to 13, want all the information they can get to help keep the family together and safe.
"We want to know all the signs that could tell us our children might be involved in gangs," Guillen, 34, said in Spanish. "They're not involved right now, but we want to be aware of all the things that go along with gang activity."
Guillen was among about 100 people who attended the community forum Wednesday night on gangs. The 2½-hour program at Modesto High School was called "Break the Cycle."
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She said it was good to hear Jorge Perez, a coordinator for Modesto City Schools outreach and intervention programs, tell a story of a successful break from the gang life. Perez talked about how he was able to leave his gang-banging beginnings and begin anew. He now works to pull kids out of the dangerous lifestyle before it's too late.
"This was a great example of how someone can leave that gang life behind," Guillen said. "It can be done."
The community forum was prompted by a recent series of shootings in Modesto that has taken the lives of children and innocent bystanders.
"If there were easy answers, we wouldn't be gathered here tonight," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden told the audience.
Wednesday's course on identifying the signs of gang violence was held just a few blocks west of a drive-by shooting that seriously injured a 22-month-old boy while he was playing in front of his home April 25.
On the same night the toddler was shot, gang members chased and shot at at two boys, injuring a 15-year-old Modesto boy and killing his 14-year-old friend from San Jose.
Several blocks west of the high school, a 48-year-old Long Beach man visiting friends in west Modesto for Cambodian new year was killed by stray gunfire from a gang confrontation April 13.
In Modesto's airport neighborhood, two men were shot April 29 as they walked a dog. A 51-year-old man died, and a 29-year-old man was shot in the leg.
Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour said gang violence has spurred the city to come together before to find solutions, but residents should remain committed long after the violence has subsided. He said the community should continue to have these forums to inform parents and their children.
"You're going to spend your life in prison or you're going to be dead," Ridenour said. "We have to impress this on our children."
Sheriff: Arrests won't solve problem
Representatives from law enforcement-based programs attended the forum to provide parents and children with information about their community improvement efforts. But law enforcement can't be the only solution, said some of the panelists answering questions from the audience.
"We're never going to be able to arrest our way out of meth and gangs," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson. "It's not going to happen."
One audience member asked Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager what's being done about increasing sentences for violent gang offenders. She said there is an ongoing effort to impose longer sentences for gang members, but that won't end the violence.
"Just locking them up won't solve the problem," Fladager said.
Stanislaus County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers agreed, and said more money should be spent on afterschool programs along with putting more officers and deputies on the street.
"The state (prison) system is a training ground for criminal careers," Powers said. "There is a 70 percent failure rate (in rehabilitation)."
Fanny De La O, 48, said the solution rests in the hands of residents. She's the mother of two Davis High School students and has participated in several crime prevention programs with Modesto police in an effort to keep her kids safe.
"It's really important that you participate," she said to the audience in Spanish, hoping to inspire other Spanish speakers to join the anti-gang effort. "The language should not be a barrier."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.