A boy, 15, was gunned down in Fairfax County, Va., a Washington, D.C., suburb, last month while sitting on an apartment’s steps. Police believe gang members mistook him as a rival because of his clothes, says the Washington Post. Ethnic gangs have lured hundreds of local children as young as 9 into their fold over the past few years, which has given them leverage to spread fear and extend their reach even into the area’s most affluent suburbs.
Because the victims and the targets of recruitment are so young, officials are forced to fight gangs not only on suburban streets, but also in middle and elementary schools and after-school clubs. Even in Fairfax, known for its good schools and low homicide rate, police believe gangs have a presence in every high school. In one neighborhood, dozens of children seek refuge after school at a Boys & Girls Club in the basement of a church. Several gang members said that they joined a group called MS-13 — the largest Washington area gang with 2,000 members –when they were young and impressionable and that they cannot get out. Gang life also ruined their chances of staying in school. Many were pressured to commit such crimes as robberies, machete assaults, and property destruction. “The problem is that juveniles are unpredictable and are notoriously irrational in their behavior,” said Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “And that presents a challenge in and of itself to prevent them from thinking that this a great life.”