HOUSTON - A deadly gang and drug war is being fought on the streets in southwest Houston. To keep the violence from spilling into local schools, HISD police have stepped up patrols, but say parents need to see the signs.
An alleged drug-related shooting on Sunday left more than a dozen shell casings on a street in the Gulfton area.
"We thought it was fireworks," said Mari Ruiz, a teenager who lives in the neighborhood.
On Rampart Street and a street near Sharpstown Mall, a total of eight people were shot over the weekend. Three of them died.
"The last couple of days we've been getting a lot of the backlash about what's going on," said HISD Officer Stephen Baines, who is a member of the department's Gang Suppression Unit. "What a lot of people don't understand is what happens on the streets involves students and students attend school, and that's our priority," said Baines.
The gang unit and Houston Independent School District patrol officers have stepped up visibility at schools in the area including Jane Long, Westbury and Sharpstown.
This is because the rival gang members and drug dealers that are trying to kill each other on the streets often attend classes together.
On Friday, HISD police say Jose Gomez, a student at Westbury High School, was writing the Southwest Cholos' gang sign on school desks.
Gomez was arrested and charged with criminal graffiti. It is a felony in Harris County.
Because he is an illegal immigrant, he is still in jail. His bond has been set at $35,000.
"Their main goal is to get that tagging up to say, 'Hey, we are here,'" Baines said.
Hanging on the walls inside HISD's Gang Suppression Unit are gang symbols used by member including clothing and pictures of gang tattoos. Officer Baines says knowledge is the key to their investigations.
He says parents should make sure their teenagers are aware of what's happening around them, too.
"Pay attention to your classmates. If you see something going on, then step back from it," Baines said.