MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) There are more than 1.4 million gang members involved in crime according to the FBI, and it's estimated that two out of every five of those members, is a teenager or a child.
It could be your child. As WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely discovered, the gang presence is closer than you might think.
December of 2010, Myrtle Beach Police say 21-year-old Damian Pickett Was shot and killed by gang member Kendrix Corbitt, 19, now serving a 15 year sentence.
January of this year presented another gang related death. Horry County Police say 18-year-old Joseph Jolly Junior was shot dead by 19-year-old Brandon Javon Sutton. Sutton is now charged with murder. "We are actually a leg up in the city of Myrtle Beach on gains," explains Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Eric DiLorenzo. But it's still a battle, DiLorenzo says his gang unit of detectives works closely with prosecutors along with state and federal officials to keep records of gang members.
"We're going to gather intelligence on them, we're gonna keep tabs on them, when they're in prison, getting out of prison," warns DiLorenzo.
DiLorenzo shows WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely a list of dozens of known gang members who've been booked for everything from misdemeanors to murder.
"We have well over 50 gang members in 10 different gangs, documented, right now in the city of Myrtle Beach. If you include the county, you're gonna have a lot more than that," said DiLorenzo, who said gangs are actively recruiting. "We see kids in lower grade schools, 4th and 5th grade, with gang symbols."
"I became a Neo-Nazi skin head," said a guy who calls himself Wade, now a member of the North Carolina Restoration Church, a place where former gang members offer active members and their families a way to get help. Wade says the biggest mistake parents make is ignoring the obvious.
"Things like bandanas, tattoos, nicknames, a colorful closet that turns to a single shade or logo...school papers with little symbols on them, school grades dropping, all within the same group of kids," says Wade of the warning signs.
But Wade says gangs aren't exclusive to males, and there are certain signs parents of teenage girls should be weary of as well.
"Extra cash or clothing that came out of nowhere, or when a daughter becomes aggressive and distant, once a princess, now someone else's possession after initiation. [Gang members] roll the dice and that's how many members the girl has to have sex with," said Wade.
Gang prevention specialist Ray Wilson sees gang activity as early as elementary school. He's also seeing young members move from the streets to their screens.
Graffiti moves from property to web pages online. These pages are called cyber tagging where gangs recruit, promote, and intimidate rivals, even brag about crimes through sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The criminal connection can start from your child's bedroom.
"I'm saying, it's your house, take the hinges off the door," said Wilson.
To get them out of a gang, get involved. Wilson says parents need to talk to their teen about why they joined: acceptance, protection, anger and money are a few likely reasons, which can all be worked through.
Police gang combat units can give parents an action plan, but success assumes the child wants out.
"Some are 'blood in, blood out'. Some of them you don't get out of," said Wade.
In that case, some families have moved to another state, or different side of the country, which experts say works with small neighborhood groups but not nation-wide gangs.
"That's the disturbing part with gangs, is that they're actively recruiting into this criminal element," said Lt. DiLorenzo. His team arrests gang members every couple days. "A gang member is not just committing crimes in Myrtle Beach, they're going out to the county, the counties are coming into ours, we've had gang members from Bennettsville, Hartsville, [and beyond] that come in here and try to set up shop."
DiLorenzo adds that the battle is never ending. As soon as detectives feel they've been headway in one case, another pops up.
"Certainly there are battles the gangs are winning, there are battles that we're winning. But I think with the things we have in place and the acknowledgment a lot of leaders have shared, other chiefs in this area and outside this area, [they] are recognizing [the problem]," Lt. DiLorenzo said.
But in addition to educating parents, police need the community to let them know what they see.
"Really the only way we're going to win this war against gangs is cooperation from families and people that live in these neighborhoods," he said.
While not all law enforcement agrees that parents should involve themselves in the gang system, all believe prevention begins with parent involvement, and all agree that getting a child out of a gang is never hopeless until a parent decides to do nothing.