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Originally published March 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 4, 2009 at 7:33 AM

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Code of silence: Gang members won't help police after friend shot down

Corey Trainer's slaying, like most others, remains unsolved. Police say a pervasive "no-snitch" policy among those with knowledge of the crimes has stymied investigators.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Youth Violence: About this series

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Corey Trainer knew perfectly well that hustling crack cocaine was the kind of job that had an early expiration date.

He was aware that joining a gang and dealing drugs weren't stable long-term career moves. He knew it was a lifestyle that often led to prison or death.

His brother — the first person in the family to graduate from high school — urged his older sibling to stay in school. "I knew school was our way out, but he wanted money fast and he didn't want to wait," said Codey Trainer, 22.

Corey Trainer told his grandparents and friends that he planned to get out and attend Shoreline Community College to hone his innate business and entrepreneurial skills.

"He didn't want to hustle forever," said his friend Adeline Hudson. "But he loved to shop and get nice outfits and spoil his friends. That's not easy to do when you're working 9 to 5." Trainer, a member of the West Seattle 74 Hoover Criminals gang, died after he was shot in his car several times on Oct. 18 in a residential neighborhood of North Seattle. The 22-year-old was one of more than a dozen young men and teens with gang ties who were killed in Seattle last year.

Trainer's slaying, like most others, remains unsolved. Police say a pervasive "no-snitch" policy among those with knowledge of the crimes has stymied investigators.

"That no-snitch campaign is real, and it's in our way all the time," said Seattle homicide Detective Al Cruise, who is working on the Trainer case. "Even the guy's own friends won't cooperate."

Police and prosecutors say even investigations of slayings with dozens of potential witnesses — like those of 17-year-old Allen Joplin at a party in January 2008 and Nate Thomas, 22, in a Seattle nightclub in November — have hit dead ends.

"There were more than 60 people there, but no one saw a thing. Yeah, right," an anonymous Police Department source said.

The Feb. 16 Central District shooting death of 26-year-old Tyrone Love, a respected music promoter with a history of anti-violence volunteer work has sparked a renewed effort among community leaders to persuade young people to abandon the code of silence.

Fliers posted in the neighborhood since Love's slaying stress that "breaking the silence" is not snitching. But the attitudes of those who loved Trainer underscore how difficult overcoming that stance may be. Many, even those closest to Trainer, said they distrust police because of previous run-ins or view cooperation as some sort of treasonous act.

"Why should we help the police? It never come down good on you when you help the police," said a gang member and Trainer friend who refused to give his name. "The police weren't no friend to Corey."

Said another friend: "If somebody dies, you're supposed to take care of it yourself. It's part of the gang-related thing. It's not that the police won't take care of it; it's that they won't do it right."

Different code of honor

In January, on what would have been Trainer's 23rd birthday, family, friends and fellow gang members, many dressed in the orange favored by the Hoovers, gathered at his grandfather's West Seattle home to remember their friend.

They played dominoes, drank beer and smoked a few "blunts" — marijuana and tobacco cigars — as they spoke with deep affection about Trainer's cockiness, ambition and charisma.

"He would walk into a room with his crooked little smile, and people would just melt," said Sue Trainer, his grandmother.

His friends described him as savvy about making money and saving it, but also generous, big-hearted and deeply loyal.

"When I got out of jail Aug. 23, I didn't have nothing," said friend Darryl Sanders, 25. "He took me out and spent every dime he had in his pockets on clothes for me."

He was a "player," his friends said, with a penchant for long showers, nice clothes and meticulous grooming.

"He was a pretty boy," said his brother, Codey. "He was always fresh. He always smelled good, had a clean white T-shirt, crisp jeans. ... He always had hella' females. I used to get mad."

One of Trainer's closest friends and business associates, a 19-year-old self-described drug dealer who didn't want to be named, said Corey reflected the different code of honor on the streets.

"He had a great heart. He was a drug dealer, yes, but he wasn't a threat to society. He never did a rape; he never did a sick child molestation. He never mugged or robbed nobody."

"I mean, drugs have always been around. Dealing drugs isn't sick. ... It's business."

Setup suspected

Shortly before he was killed, Trainer picked up two people, a young female and a male friend who was also a member of the West Seattle Hoovers, one of several loosely affiliated gangs in the Puget Sound area.

The three drove around and stopped at a convenience store where Trainer called Sanders shortly before 11 p.m. and told him he thought he was being followed.

"He said he was going to take a side street to see if the car followed," Sanders said.

He turned onto 14th Avenue Northeast in the Pinehurst neighborhood of Seattle. A car "rolled up" alongside him within seconds, and the occupants fired as many as 16 shots into Trainer's car. Trainer was struck at least four times in the head, neck and torso. Neither of his passengers was hit.

While there are numerous theories as to why Trainer was killed, everyone seems to agree on some things.

First, despite his gang ties, his death was not connected to the purported rivalry between gangs from the Central District and the South End — said to be behind several other fatal shootings last year.

Second, no one believes Trainer was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or mistaken for somebody else.

"He was definitely set up," Sanders said.

Detective Cruise agrees. "The general facts of the case strongly suggest that somebody in the car was targeted."

Some people say he was hit by rival drug dealers because of his aggressive expansion into the Lake City and Pinehurst neighborhoods. Some say he was set up by an angry client.

Others theorize that members of his gang orchestrated the slaying because Trainer repeatedly was arrested for drugs and risked bringing increased scrutiny to the group.

Although Trainer had only one conviction for possession of marijuana, court records show he had been arrested three times for possession of drugs in the four months before his death.

His Hoover friends deny it was an inside hit.

"He was a good dude and well-respected among us," said his friend Eric Solis.

They attribute his slaying to a woman who was hurt when Trainer slept with her mother.

"It had nothing to do with gangs," Sanders said. "It was over a female."

Out for justice

Among those who gathered at his unmarked grave on his birthday was his aunt Terri Trainer, who remembered the little boy who used to cling to her and cuddle in her lap.

Sue Trainer, his grandmother, said she's at peace in the knowledge that "he knew I had his heart and he had mine. He knew that I loved him."

His father, Tommy Trainer, who left Trainer's mother when Corey was young, blames his son's demise on having "no family structure," but he doesn't blame himself.

"I knew this was going to happen," he said. "I was telling my wife if he keeps running in that gang lifestyle, he's going to end up dead."

Bill Trainer, Corey's grandfather, has embraced his grandson's young friends, hosting Hoover parties, wearing the orange gang colors on a hand-tailored jacket that bears a photo of his grandson and the letters "RIP."

He revels in his new nickname, "Grandpa Hoover," appears with them on their behalf in court and brags when they find good, legal jobs.

"There are a lot of people who don't understand how you can be in a gang and still be a good person. But you can," he said. "These kids are misunderstood."

He said police have told him that they're working on the case, but he vowed to launch a separate investigation should an arrest fail to materialize.

"I've talked to people the police don't even know about," he said.

A Trainer friend who asked not to be named said he and many others have a pretty good idea what happened on the night Corey Trainer was shot and are making their own plans.

"There is no justice for us through the police. We already know what happened, and it'll be taken care of. Somebody's already marked."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or seattletimes.com">cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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