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Rural town fights gang violence with a summer picnic

This past spring we brought you the story of an Eastern Washington dairy town plagued by gang violence. Now, several months later residents of Outlook, Washington are fighting gangs with summer camps and social gatherings.

This spring a 17-year-old girl was shot at her home in Outlook, Wash. allegedly by four gang members. But just recently, blocks away from that murder site, children played bean bag toss and took whacks at a piñata.

It's all a part of a slow fight to take back the Eastern Washington dairy town of Outlook. Children and neighborhood dogs run dizzy between face painting, lawn bowling and a bucket of bubbles.

Adults stood around eating charred hot dogs and juicy hunks of watermelon. This picnic might not be a big deal in some communities. But here in Outlook, having 60 people show up to a party in the open at night is a huge push back against gangs.

"It's exciting that they are all here, you know, to enjoy each other and have a good time fellowship," says Petra Moreles.

When community organizers like Moreles started trying to reach residents here a year ago, people wouldn't open their doors. Some here at the picnic say, it's still safer not to.

Take, 19-year-old Nellie Padilla. She says she rarely goes out or comes back home at night. Here's her advice for someone visiting her hometown. Don't make eye contact, don't wear red or blue and...

"I guess go out to a minimal and that's it," Padilla says. "Do what you need to do and no extras."

Even young children here appear accustomed to violence. Nearby, nine-year-old Manny Castillo and his two younger brothers flash toothy grins. They're enjoying the party games today, but say it's still dangerous for kids in their hometown.

Interview with the Castillo family shows fear in Outlook

I asked them, "Why do you feel like you are sometimes scared in Outlook? Do you hear gunfire or see bad dogs or what?"

"Bad dogs. And gunfire. Yes we do," Castillo says. "We see shooting and all that. Drivebys. They do drivebys."

"What do you do when you hear the gunfire?"

"Be quiet," he says. "We go inside my mom's room and hide down."

“What does your momma say?" I asked.

"She goes shhhhhhh shhhhhhh, so they can't shoot at our house."

Standing up for Outlook makes progress

The lead organizer for the group Stand Up For Outlook is Petra Moreles. She says there has been plenty of crime since spring. But she's happy for at least some tangible progress.

She's been passing out hundreds of fliers, organizing day camps for children, community cleanup days and this picnic.

Moreles says on their last clean-up day in Outlook, she saw more volunteers and neighbors helping each other than ever before.

One case of neighbors helping each other was especially heartening to Moreles.

"This lady was new to the town, so she had been cleaning and cleaning her graffiti. But it was just like day after day, day after day. So she was kind of giving up," she says. "The community coming together and painting her house was a big sign to her that she's not alone. That the community just needs to come together."

Moreles says the community group Stand Up For Outlook is working on organizing other summer activities and camps for children.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.