Burien’s at-risk teens: Two teenagers credit Youth Violence Program with turning their lives around

BURIEN, Wash. -- It's been two weeks since two teenage girls were killed in Burien in a shooting that police said was probably related to gang violence.

Police say detectives are making progress in the double-murder case, but so far there have been no arrests.

“It's crazy, I really didn't believe it until they confirmed it. It was scary, you know?" said 15-year-old Cruz Bautista, who was friends with 13-year-old Elizabeth Juarez, one of the girls who was gunned down.

Elizabeth died that night with her close friend, 19-year-old Eveona Cortez, who were both shot in a parking lot at the Alturas apartment complex.

Their deaths led parents, police and the Burien community to seek solutions to young teens getting involved in gang violence.

“There are people reaching out to you in light of what just happened and they’re reaching out for help,” King County Youth Violence Program Director Justin Cox said.

Cox works with at-risk teens, trying to keep them from joining gangs, going to jail or otherwise ruining their lives.

“They see these older gang members with these things, they glorify, and they want them and they’re spending time with them, they’re hearing them talk and then they become role models,” said Cox.

So Cox tries to influence kids to make better decisions.

“It was just fighting all the time,” said 18-year-old Tymeka Brooks, who grew up using her fists and sharp tongue.

After getting multiple school suspensions and expulsions, Tymeka said, she got involved in the Youth Violence Prevention Program and started volunteering and mentoring.

“He was showing me programs and it would keep me out of trouble and keep me busy all the time so I wouldn’t be as available to start fighting,” said Tymeka.

A big wake-up call forced the 15-year-old Cruz to reevaluate, too.

“Eighth grade I got expelled and then time alone. My friends never checked up on me and that’s when I started thinking they’re not going to be here for me,” Cruz said.

So he cut out some of the bad influences and hopes to one day be a detective.

“Because of my family. I don’t want them to see me in jail or locked up or go see me at the cemetery,” Cruz said.

Tymeka’s transformation led to her greatest accomplishment—high school graduation.  That’s why she’s now in college studying to become a case manager for teens.

Cox says what's more important than just funding or resources is that at-risk teens need adults to step up and be positive role models in their lives.