HOUSTON -- It's an area of Houston like no other - a 3.2-square-mile neighborhood densely packed with apartment complexes and tens of thousands of people.

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Warring gangs have Houston's 'Gulfton Ghetto' in a stranglehold
August 3, 2009

Many long-time Houstonians have referred to it as the Gulfton Ghetto, saying it's home to crime and blaming it for the demise of Sharpstown.

And now, it's become a war zone as rival gangs fight for territory and power.

Gulfton wasn't always that way. In the late 1970s, during the oil boom, thousands of people migrated to Houston. To accommodate the population explosion, existing apartments were remodeled.

New apartments seemed to pop up overnight, many of them taking up several city blocks.

If you lived in Houston back then, you probably remember Michael Pollack.

Pollack, a marketing guru with a swagger, helped Gulfton grow into a singles' paradise.

That is, until the boom turned to bust.

Now, 25 years later, the area is the headquarters for a gang known as the Southwest Cholos.

Three weeks ago, outside of a nightclub on Clarewood, Houston police say a Southwest Cholo gang member was shot several times in the parking lot. Carlos Rogue, 17, died at the hospital.

Witnesses said the shooter was Eric Hernandez, an MS-13 gang member. Police found him three days later, and now he's sitting in jail, charged with murder.

11 News has learned that in recent months, MS-13 gang members have been coming into the Gulfton area, looking to take control.

Just last Friday, paramedics and police were called to another scene where an alleged Southwest Cholo was severely beaten by a group of MS-13 affiliates. The victim went into seizures, but survived.

Reverend Alejandro Montes of the San Mateo Iglesia Episcopal has witnessed the gang wars firsthand in Gulfton.

He's a member of P.A.C.T., a police and clergy team fighting the violence.

"When I see kids 15-16 years old, it is very hard. I think it could be one of my church kids, you know," Montes said.

Montes said stopping the violence starts with the entire family, because for the youth in Gulfton, gangs and violence have become a way of life.

"We just kind of learn to live with it, because it happens so often. It's kind of like breathing. We don't talk about breathing, it just happens," Wendy Pineda, the youth coordinator at San Mateo, said.

"I had like 10-year-olds, elementary school children talking to me about it," she said.

The mayor's anti-gang office said it's currently working with 10 gang members in the Gulfton area who are looking for a way out, and 300 kids from Gulfton participated in the mayor's summer camp program.

The young singles who moved to Gulfton in the late 70s and early 80s eventually lost their jobs during the oil bust and moved away.

Rents plummeted, and Gulfton changed.

Now it's home to gangs fighting for control and innocent residents ducking for cover.

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