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Originally published July 25, 2011 at 8:15 PM | Page modified July 25, 2011 at 8:42 PM

Kent shootings shift police focus to gang violence

Kent police are investigating the shootings at a South King County car show over the weekend that left 13 people injured as a gang-related offense, and the chief of police is calling on other area law-enforcement agencies to help tackle the impact of increasing gang activity in the region.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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In the wake of Saturday's shootings at a custom-car show that left 13 people injured, Kent police are calling for a meeting of law-enforcement officials to focus on the impact of increasing gang-related violence in South King County.

Kent police spokesman Lt. Pat Lowery said more than a dozen detectives are working on the shootings, which investigators say likely were tied to gang rivalries. No arrests have been made, but Lowery said that detectives believe at least two weapons were involved.

Police said Monday that they have begun to narrow the scope of their investigation and are now searching for a number of individuals they believe may have information about the shootings.

"While not suspects in the incident, detectives believe that these persons have information crucial to their investigation," Lowery said.

He also said police are looking for several cars that were captured by surveillance cameras leaving the scene of the shootings.

According to police, as many as 300 people were attending a car show in the parking lot of La Plaza shopping center, near the intersection of Pacific Highway South and South Kent-Des Moines Road, when gunfire erupted around 4:15 p.m. People dropped to the pavement while others scurried into businesses in the shopping center.

Witnesses reported that several young people were "mugging," or staring one another down, just before the shooting.

Police did not identify the gangs they believe may have been involved.

One local gang expert, the founder of the Northwest Gangs website created to give general information on street-gang activity in the Pacific Northwest, said the shooting was believed to have had some connection to one of the so-called "gangster rap" musical groups that played at the free, all-ages event.

The founder of the website asked not to be named because he fears retaliation.

Some of the participants in the car show said the appearance of Southern California rap groups may have fueled the confrontation.

Lokos Music of Kent, sponsor of the event, could not be reached Monday.

King County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said that his department has noted a migration in gang activity over the past couple of years from Seattle city limits to South King County. The Sheriff's Office is not involved in the investigation of the shooting.

"There are all kinds of gangs down there and they have been moving further and further south," he said.

In all, nine of the Kent shooting victims were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Four were treated and released immediately, and five were admitted in satisfactory condition.

By Monday, only two, a man and a woman, remained in the hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg.

Several other victims with less serious injuries were sent to other hospitals.

Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said he will call for a meeting of South King County law-enforcement agencies to address the impact of recent gang-related activity in the area and to "identify significant strategies to respond to the problems posed by organized street gangs."

Kent detectives continue to seek any witnesses present at Saturday's car show, or people who may have photographs or video of the car show. Those with information should call the Kent Police Department Tip Line at 253-856-5808.

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

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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