BURIEN, Wash. -- “These kids, they killed something that meant everything to us,” said Lesley Delgadillo holding back tears.
She’s a friend and co-worker of Gabriella Reyes-Dominguez, 51, who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting last week when she was sitting in the front desk just doing her job.
The sign outside the chiropractor office flashes “open” but the bullet hole in the front window is a grim reminder of escalating gang violence in south King County.
“It’s really hard to think that she stood up for so many of those kids,” said Delgadillo.
Investigators say two teens affiliated with a gang are responsible for the death of Reyes-Dominguez. A third juvenile was arrested Monday.
"As King County sheriff, I’m stepping up to take the lead on forming this regional task force and approach to gang violence,” Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said earlier Monday.
The sheriff’s office is now proposing to spend about $900,000 to set up a new gang unit to combat the problem. It will include a detective and a sergeant.
“It’s a good thing, because two (officers) is better than nothing,” said Delgadillo, who added that while it’s a good start, the two won’t solve the growing gang problem in the area.
King County had a regional gang task force until 2014 when it was dissolved due to funding, but over the years, Burien residents say gang activity is taking over neighborhoods.
“Gangs have been (here) always, all the time, but it’s worse. I mean we can see it,” said Miriam Gomez, who sat next to Reyes-Dominguez every day.
Gomez and Delgadillo, mother and daughter, say gang members have come in for treatment at the chiropractic clinic. They say Reyes-Dominguez would treat them well, giving them guidance and loving advice. They say teens find gang life alluring because they’re lacking stability at home.
"They’re just going out ... making wrong decisions, going to gangs because they feel that’s where they fit. It’s really sad to see that,” said Delgadillo.
Johanknecht says part of the task force will be dedicated to community outreach.
“Our gang unit will also provide support to schools on what gang activity is and what recruitment efforts are being made at schools. Work with parents, too, to recognize recruitment tactics,” said Johanknecht.
At the chiropractic office, healing times come with a heavy heart.
“This is really hard,” Gomez said as she was tidying up near closing time. She says Reyes-Dominguez always believed teenage gang members could turn their lives around.
“She would always tell us, see these are just kids, they just need guidance. To know that those kids are the reason she is dead now is really hard to accept,” said Delgadillo in tears.
The funds for the gang unit still have to get approved through the King County Council, which could happen by November.
Johanknecht said her dream would be to have a 20-person regional gang unit, but that two people is a good start.