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Leaders from Burien, county search for solutions to gang violence after 2 teens die

BURIEN, Wash. – Music, hugs, and tears swept over a few dozen people gathered Thursday night where two teenage girls were shot and killed outside the Alturas Apartments.

“This is tragic and I send my prayers to the family,” said Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta.

That’s why Matta and King County Sheriff Mitizi Johanknecht offered their support to finding the men responsible for this gang-related shooting.

“When we say, do we have a gang problem -- it’s obvious that we have graffiti on walls. Is the gang two or three kids? I don’t think we have an overall view of what’s going on with our youth,” Matta said.

Matta would only say there’s a youth-on-youth violence problem in the area.  Matta says some people who might have seen something haven’t come forward, possibly out of fear of deportation.

“Whether you’re documented or undocumented, call 911, call the city.  We’ll put you in contact with the right people,” said Matta.

City and county leaders are promising to do something about the gang-related violence in the area.  Many citizens are asking for more police, but budget cuts about four years ago eliminated the King County Sheriff’s Office gang unit. Now, there’s only one dedicated gang detective in the whole department.

“Talking to the sheriff today, she would like to get a gang unit involved again.  Maybe not just King County, but all the major agencies to get involved and we’ve got to get funding,” said Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

Burien police officers started a community outreach unit last year.

“They do plain-clothed and uniform patrols. We have three detectives and a sergeant right now and that’s their job is building relationships with the community,” said Abbott.

But getting more officers to service the growing city isn’t the only option.

“Do we have opportunities for youth? Do we have case-management specialists to address opioid epidemic and family issues and all the things that can affect quality-of-life issues?  We want to take a holistic view,” said Burien City Manager Brian Wilson.

Whatever the approach, the mayor is pleading for the end of youth violence in two languages.

“In the Spanish community we say ‘basta’ to violence. Stop,” said Matta.

Police have yet to release the names and ages of the two teenagers killed.

Police say they’re still interviewing witnesses and will release more information in the coming days.