‘I’m afraid there are going to be passing bullets’: Frustrated Kearns community discusses escalating gang violence

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lisa Anger, of Kearns, speaks during a community meeting at Kearns High School Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Kearns • Christina Robles has called the police three times in the past 10 days to report gunshots.

In the case of two of those calls, no one was injured. But on Tuesday, a drive-by shooting at her neighbor’s house and subsequent car crash left two people dead.

“My son here is hiding under his bed,” the mother of three said. “I can’t even put my daughter to sleep in her bedroom because she sleeps at the front of the house and I’m afraid there are going to be passing bullets.”

Tuesday marked the third day in a row that gunshots had been fired in the community.

As police officers investigated possible ties between the shootings, a frustrated Kearns community gathered Thursday night to discuss escalating gang violence that led to the deaths of two of their neighbors.

Council members on Sunday had decided to call the meeting after alleged gang members shot a 17-year-old in the legs as he and his friends walked along 6200 South.

On Monday and Tuesday, alleged gang members shot at Robles’ neighbor’s house. Although no one was injured or arrested Monday, police arrested four male suspects late Tuesday after they fled the scene in a blue pickup truck and smashed into a passing car, killing its occupants, Lloyd Everett Pace and Tami Lynn Woodard, both of Kearns.

Police initially believed the shootings were connected, but according to Unified police Lt. Brian Lohrke, officers have since determined their only ties are that they were all gang-related.  

The suspects — 24-year-old Jose Luis Munoz-Lugo, Argenis Daniel Ramirez-Saedt, 19, and Rosalio Alvarez, 19, and a 17-year-old — were booked on suspicion of two counts each of first-degree felony murder, and multiple counts of discharging firearms toward a person. The adults being held in the Salt Lake County jail without bail, while the minor is in juvenile detention.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jenny Swift, of Kearns, speaks during a community meeting at Kearns High School Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Some community members expressed frustration that the suspects arrested after Tuesday’s shooting had been on the street at all.

Jenny Swift said she didn’t understand why the deaths couldn’t have been prevented, saying that the truck had been stolen and was on the police department’s radar.

“Our goal is to prevent crime before it happens,” Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said. “However, sometimes when a crime occurs, we have to have an investigation.”

Law enforcement has to be careful identifying who is and isn’t in a gang, Rivera said. “Just because somebody wears a specific color does not mean they are a gang member.”

The concern of false accusations was echoed by several community members, including Robles.

She has never taught her children to be afraid of police, but she’s concerned her 17-year-old son — a senior at Kearns High School “with an afro out to here” — might be profiled.

Robles would like to see more officers building relationships in the community so children feel like they have allies as they grow up, she said.

Her 10-year-old’s football coach, who also is a police officer in the metro gang unit, has done that, she said. In the past seven years, he has built a relationship with her son and other boys.

“That’s what I want to see from other officers,” Robles said.

She’d also like to see more public forums and other places where she and her neighbors can interact with police officers so that teenagers’ only experiences with cops aren’t bad ones. 

“I don’t want my children to be afraid of the gunshots,” she said, “Or the police that are there to protect them.”