Apr 23, 2014 7:46 PM by Tony Spehar
PUEBLO - Eight people have been arrested in connection to the investigation into a string of drive-by shootings in Pueblo.
Police say it began on March 31 with a drive-by shooting on 18th Street, which prompted a number of drive-by shootings across the city back and forth between members of rival gangs the Latin Aces and Bessemer Spruce Locos. A total of six shootings and a house fire caused by arson are being attributed to the gang fighting.
"These shootings were retaliations for something that just happened previously, it's a flare-up of gang activity," explained Pueblo Police Chief Luis Velez. "Luckily for the last two to three-years we have not had that kind of a flare-up in gang activity in the City of Pueblo."
Michael Gonzales, Emillio Hall and Max Esquibel have been arrested and accused of being directly connected to the shootings. Samantha Hall, Nadine Candelaria, Antonio Marquez, Joshua Wistoff and an unnamed juvenile were also arrested on other charges during the investigation into the shootings. All eight were arrested over the weekend, police seized four guns and over 200-grams of heroin.
Chief Velez said the department didn't anticipate that the spike in gang violence would continue into the summer.
"I hope not, quite frankly I'm hoping just the opposite," he said. "We are putting a pretty good dent into some gang activity right now even before we get into summer."
Pueblo has seen its share of gang violence throughout the past few decades. Frank Arteaga of the Gang Alternative Program of Pueblo has seen plenty of blood on the streets while doing outreach to get young people out of gangs. His program offers education and support to those living in high crime areas as well as annual gun take back events.
"In 1993 I found a young 15-year-old kid with a bullet through his head and he was dead and there was nothing I could do about it," Arteaga described. "From 1993 until today I've been to over a hundred gang related funerals."
Seeing gang violence increase after relatively peaceful years in the city doesn't surprise Arteaga. He estimates that continued economic issues, an increasing heroin problem and a lack of community involvement in restoring pride to many poorer neighborhoods continue to push young people into the gang culture.
"Unfortunately the end results are the escalation of violence, because there's no respect for the fact that you might go to jail or you might go to prison," Arteaga explained. "That thinking has to be turned around."
Pueblo Police said the investigation into the shootings is ongoing and could lead to more arrests. They're also sill looking for Ramon Gomez, 27, who is being considered a person of interest in the shootings.