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Fearful Denver Becomes Gangs War Zone : Violence: One mother tells of hearing 30 gunshots in a brief period one night. Finger of blame points everywhere as tally of drive-by shooting victims grows.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Every night, fearful north Denver residents lock themselves in their homes as their streets become battlefields in an escalating gang war.

Many put their children to sleep on the floor to protect them from stray bullets.

“It’s a damn war zone,” said Maxine Castro, a single mother of three who counted 30 gunshots in a half-hour one night. “We can’t even sit on our porches at night.”

Castro said she wants to move from Park Hill--a working-class neighborhood of brick, tract homes and neatly landscaped yards--but “I don’t because this is my home.”

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She and other residents are demanding answers after 6-year-old Broderick Bell was shot in the head in a gang cross-fire Wednesday outside his home.

Broderick was one of at least four innocent victims of drive-by shootings in the area this year. He remained hospitalized in critical condition Friday.

“I couldn’t even sleep after watching that on TV,” said Regis Groff, a state senator who has lived in north Denver for 30 years. “It just sort of stopped me dead in my tracks.”

Other recent shooting victims include a woman killed by a bullet that crashed through a window in her home, a 10-month-old boy wounded by stray gunfire at the Denver Zoo and a woman who died a month after she was shot as she watched television in her living room.

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Gov. Roy Romer is considering calling state lawmakers into a special session to address gun-control issues. But Groff, who saw several of his gun-control bills die in the regular session, was not optimistic, citing the powerful National Rifle Assn.

Mayor Wellington Webb held a news conference outside Broderick’s home Thursday to announce a crackdown on gangs.

“I believe there are certain neighborhoods where there is a battle to see who is supreme. What we’re saying today is that we’re going to take on that charge,” he said.

Just a mile east of Stapleton International Airport, Park Hill was once a peaceful community. Neighbors rarely locked their doors and children walked to school and played in parks.

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Today, many Park Hill parents refuse to let their children play in front yards and in parks. They know where the crack houses are and where the gang members live, but refuse to call police because they fear retaliation.

Groff, like many residents, blames the growth of gangs on problems that include a lack of parental responsibility, de-emphasis of education, easy access to firearms and teens who have lost direction.

The solutions proposed seem familiar: increased community involvement, stricter gun control, better summer jobs programs for youngsters, increased enforcement and maximum penalties for drug-related and violent crimes.

Several residents vented their frustrations at Webb’s news conference. They said police often don’t come when called or arrive announcing to gang members who “tattled” on them. Some say they rarely see a patrol cruiser in Park Hill more than once a shift.

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They challenged Webb to spend a night in the neighborhood. “Why don’t you walk in the street and we will show you where these people are,” Castro shouted at Webb. “Come and sit with us when the shots are fired.”

Webb, without responding, promised more patrols and more help when residents call.

For five years, Castro has worked with Las Comadres, a support group for parents of gang members. Has it made a difference? “Not really,” she said.

“I know one of these days, they are going to let me or one of my children have it,” Castro said. “That’s why I do it.”

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