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Q13 FOX Season of Giving

With teens in gangs, it takes schools, community to intervene early

BURIEN, Wash. -- This week's tragic drive-by shooting that killed an innocent woman at her office is bringing attention to the number of teenagers involved in gangs.

In South King County, schools are left trying to figure out how to intervene before it's too late.

At Highline High School, students told Q13 News they know some of their own classmates are involved in gangs and other risky behaviors.

One junior, Miguel Estevez, said he was also headed down the wrong path but a run-in with the law changed everything.

"I got pulled out of class and searched and patted down and they found alcohol and a knife on me," he said.

Miguel was just a freshman at Highline High School when he got busted for bad behavior.

"Afterwards, I got connected by some family friends to a program called Choose 180," he said.

It was a turning point. Choose 180 works to intervene with teens in crisis  and now it's working with Highline Public Schools to reach those kids at the first signs of risk. Sean Goode is the executive director.

"I remember when I was a teenager in the same Highline School District," Goode said. "I was having similar challenges in my own life and found myself looking for those same relationships with people who were involved with gangs."

It's those experiences Goode uses to connect with troubled teens.

Miguel never turned to gangs but said without the program, today he would be in a darker place.

"The stories that they showed me [in the program] taught me what they've been through and how they've succeeded from there and learned to change their life around," Miguel said. "I think without the program I probably would have been doing bad stuff, feeling like I have no support and that probably would have been in a lot worse place."

Not only did his time with the program lead to King County waiving his charges, he also interns with the county every year. Now a junior in high school, Miguel wants to go to law school to become a public defender.

His life is still full of obstacles. This high school student is couch-surfing and trying to find a place to live.

"Me and my family's relationship is sort of sketchy," he said. "We had a little falling out a while ago but working on repairing it. My mentors from [Choose] 180 and King County have been helping me to try to talk to them a little more and get connected to them like before."

That mentorship is getting him through tough times that many teenagers face. Goode said the difference between success stories like Miguel's and the two teenage gang members involved in this week's drive-by shooting could be early intervention.