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Neighborhoods wrapped in crime tape have become a sobering sight in Omaha, Nebraska, where a fatal shooting allegedly carried out by a 12-year-old boy is the latest case being linked to gangs.
While violent gun crime dipped over the past decade in this Midwestern city of more than 430,000, the latest statistics show a resurgence of gun assault incidents this year. It's alarming enough for Omaha officials this week to pledge a stronger and more effective response to the scourge of gang activity.
The most troublesome months of January, May and June saw 41 gun assaults this year, up from 35 during the same three months of last year, according to Omaha police data.
"What you’re seeing is today's victim becomes tomorrow's suspect," Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told NBC affiliate WOWT. "These outbreaks are simply gang and gun violence and retaliation. You will never arrest yourself out of this situation."
Nearly a dozen gangs are blamed for most of the gun violence. The first half of the year was capped with the June 29 shooting of a 31-year-old man in north Omaha during an alleged drug deal.
The youngest of the gunmen — a baby-faced 12-year-old named Jarrell Milton — managed to flee 400 miles north to Minneapolis before he was caught Tuesday night, officials said.
Jarrell is being extradited back to Omaha to face a first-degree murder charge. His two alleged accomplices — 17-year-old brother Jamar Milton and 15-year-old Shuntayvious Primes-Willis — have already been charged as adults.
Investigators told WOWT that all three suspects were carrying guns and are believed to have gang affiliations.
Jarrell's mother, Iyannia Moss, was convicted for felony assault when Jarrell was a toddler, WOWT reported. And according to court documents, the boys' father, 37-year-old Javaris Milton, is serving a 30-year prison sentence in Minnesota for a 2010 murder, WOWT reported.
Other high-profile shootings this year in the city also have gang ties.
In January, eight people were shot at a house party, three of them fatally in the name of gang retribution, police said. Then, in May, Omaha police veteran Kerrie Orozco was killed in a gun battle with a convicted felon and known gang member who was on the run for another shooting.
While the recent spike is hard to explain, Omaha street gangs continue to have a stranglehold on impressionable youth, said Bruce Ferrell, a former gang unit officer in the city.
Ferrell said the problem remains a generational one: Gang members raising their children into the lifestyle.
"I started in the gang unit in 1988, and there are guys back then who are now grandfathers who taught their sons — who are now teaching their sons to be a gang member," said Ferrell, chairman of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, which offers gang activity training to police departments.
He said there's also a shift in younger kids joining gangs because social media offers opportunities for them to connect through Facebook and YouTube.
"It has allowed them to learn about how to become a good gang member," Ferrell said. "These channels can be used as a way to harass rival gangs or to intimidate people online."
In addition, gangs are using the allure of hip hop stardom to draw recruits. Slickly produced music videos uploaded online show members counting money, cooking drugs and flashing firearms.
"These kids see it and think they can be an aspiring musician, too," Ferrell said.
"We can't lose focus, one shooting or homicide is one too many."
But Omaha has managed to see a significant decrease in gun assaults over the past decade, according to city police stats. After a high of 95 incidents during the first six months of 2007, the first six months of 2015 totaled 59.
The drop is being credited to the growth of community policing. City officials said they will continue targeting problem neighborhoods with more police.
Willie Barney, the president of the Empowerment Network, an Omaha group working to better the city, said various community and faith-based organizations, residents and businesses are also doing their part. They have banded together to provide employment, educational programs and recreational activities as alternatives to the streets, Barney said.
The groups also do outreach, providing mentors and coaching to youth. But Barney acknowledged that there are more children in Omaha who can use help than there are available opportunities.
The community groups made an effort this week to canvass the same neighborhood where the fatal shooting involving the 12-year-old suspect took place.
"We can't lose focus," Barney said, "one shooting or homicide is one too many."