Gang recruitment starts as early as elementary school, experts say

WASHINGTON — The recent disappearance and murder of a 15-year-old Gaithersburg girl has focused attention on the criminal gangs that operate throughout the D.C. area. The gangs recruit kids as young as 10 or 11 years old, and gang experts say all parents need to help steer their kids clear of gang influence.

“We do see multiple gangs in the Washington, D.C. area, anything from nationally known gangs to homegrown street cliques,” said Ed Ryan, gang prevention coordinator for Fairfax County. “Oftentimes gangs are targeting middle school age and they do, unfortunately, dip down to the elementary school age.”

Ryan is employed by the Fairfax Juvenile Court to combat gang activity through intervention and prevention. He has counterparts in Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria. Police work toward suppression of gang activity and they agree that all parents should be concerned about the threat of gangs.

“There might not be a direct threat of this group reaching out to to their children, but (gangs are) in your schools. You don’t want to take the chance of your kid getting involved in that group,” said Officer Tawny Wright, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County police.

Experts say any kid can be subjected to gang influence, but it’s quiet loners who are most susceptible.

“Maybe they have a hard time making friends. They may be bullied. They usually sit by themselves at the lunch table,” Ryan said. “The gangs see that.”

Wright said gangs provide kids a sense of belonging.

“They (gangs) seem to have this idea of unity: ‘We’re here for you, we’re together and we’re family.’ But they don’t,” Wright said. “They don’t look out for each other and they treat the girls horribly.”

All parents are encouraged to warn their children about gangs, just like they warn children about drugs or talking to strangers.

“You just incorporate negativity like gangs into whatever your parenting style is and you do that as early as you would talk to your kids about any negative influences,” Ryan said.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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