Join us for our three-part debut of "The CORE: East Side Violence," a look at the spike in deadly shootings in east San Antonio and how the community is fighting back.
KENS 5 is beginning "The CORE," our Collaborative Online Reporting Effort, because not all stories can be told on TV. There are some stories that need more time and need your involvement.
The recent violence on San Antonio's east side is one example. There were so many shootings and so many people wounded that we had to look deeper.
In the first 90 days of 2016, the homicide rate in east San Antonio doubled. Aggravated assaults and people with bullet holes? Those numbers were even higher.
It's not just numbers, it's about people. East-side residents are tired of the gunfire and looking for solutions.
The narrative is that it's all gang-related and retaliation for previous crimes. But as we walked the streets and talked to people, we learned that's simply not the case.
Join us for our three-part debut of "The CORE: East Side Violence." You can click the main video on this page to watch the whole report or view it in parts in our CORE section.
PART ONE: Violent shootings all too common on S.A.'s east side
KENS 5 journalist Dillon Collier has dug into the east side's history and challenges as an investigative reporter.
SAN ANTONIO –- A rash of fatal shootings in east San Antonio in recent months has caused an unwanted spike in business at Carter Taylor Williams Mortuary.
“When I do some of these funerals, at the end of the funeral, once I leave the cemetery, I almost feel drained, because you’ve exhausted your energy mentally,” owner Vera Williams-Young said during a recent interview, describing the mental strain that comes with burying a young person.
During the first three months of 2016, there were 14 murders on the city’s east side. East San Antonio also had 45 aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon during the same time period, another sign of increased gun violence.
Williams-Young says her side of town has resembled a war zone, and she knows what it will take to stop it:
“The solution has to come from within the person.”
On March 7, five men were shot, two fatally, while sitting inside a car in the 500 block of Larry Street.
Rolanda Bradford, the mother of victim Ishmael Haywood, reflected on his death a month after the ambush shooting.
“I carried him for nine months. He was there for 20 years. How am I supposed to just move on? You can’t. You can’t move on,” said Bradford, who added her other children have given her the will to keep working.
Despite reports claiming Haywood was killed in a gang shootout, his mother said a charity paid for his funeral, something it could not have done had Haywood been a known gang member.
Bradford said her son carried a gun in the months before his death.
“He felt like his life was in danger. He told me he couldn’t trust anyone,” she said.
Nearly three months after Demontray Mackey and Haywood were killed, their murders remain unsolved.
A third victim of the shooting, Gino Reece, survived his injuries and was taken into custody on unrelated warrants after being released from the hospital.
Despite being Haywood’s best friend, Reece has refused to provide police information about the shooting, Bradford said.
SHOT PLAYING IN HER YARD
Hours before the Larry Street shooting, less than two miles away, a 17-year-old was shot in her front yard in the 500 block of Meerscheidt while playing soccer with her 2-year-old cousin.
“I felt something hit me in my arm, like sting me, and then I started feeling like hot," Jocelyn Mejia said. "I decided to look at it and I just saw it hanging."
A bullet had shattered a bone in her left arm, and she also had been hit in the stomach.
Mejia may never regain full movement on her arm, which now is held in place by a large plate and six screws.
She said her surgery at San Antonio Military Medical Center was delayed so surgeons could operate on one of the Larry Street shooting victims.
Mejia told us she remembers seeing a grey car drive by her as she was being hit, but nobody has been arrested in the case.
It's just one of many crimes on the east side that remains unsolved, and that knowledge has affected Mejia and her family.
“My mom doesn’t let me come outside because she thinks something is going to happen again."
PART TWO: Residents on 'the hill' say east side is home, but danger remains
KENS 5 journalist Marvin Hurst has covered numerous crimes on the east side as a morning reporter.
SAN ANTONIO -- The 600 block of Morningview is built on a hill. The area is notorious for gang activity, shootings and drug problems.
But "the hill" is more than that.
"It's home," says Mimi, who has lived here for two years. "It's just a normal particular hood where we hang and people go to work. People just hang out, but it's home, though. It's everywhere you stay at, though."
Mimi has four children of her own, but she's watching over more than them: She's viewed as a mother figure by most who live on the hill.
"People need to respect where we stay at. Just because people say the gun violence, the shooting and all that. It's going on everywhere. It's not just going on on Morningview. It's everywhere. But over here we're like victims."
Bill owns property on the hill. He's an eyewitness to the community's culture. What has he seen?
"There's peaks and valleys. I mean, there's a lot of time when there's nothing going on, relatively speaking," he said. "There's other times when it gets busy. Busy as in crime, prostitution, drugs, shootings."
BORN INTO ADDICTION
Shorty is a neighborhood handyman on the hill. He's a military veteran battling drug addiction.
"I was chemically born, sir. How 'bout that? Do you understand me now? I was born into addiction. Trust me. I know. My mother would give it to me and that was to knock me out so that she didn't have to deal with me because she didn't really want to.
"I didn't choose this life by choice. It was put on me, but it wasn't my decision to just let it dominate me."
When asked about his addiction, Shorty explained that he is "a chemically altered man."
"Yeah, I smoke crack. I'm a former crack smoker. And I'm a smoker today right now, put it that way."
FEAR OF THE HILL
"Jorge" (not his real name) moved to the hill to live with his ailing mother.
"We call it Devil's Row. The name comes from the gang color that holds down the area. I got nothing but respect for that color," he said.
"I think my fear level is like a pain threshold," Bill told us. "It's a higher threshold. I've been a lot of places (and) done a lot of things, been in areas worse than this. I keep my head on a swivel. I don't walk the areas I know I shouldn't be walking in. I stand out in this neighborhood."
"It's your average neighborhood today," Shorty explains. "It is problematic at times. It's a hellhole at whatever given time. But it's just like any other place on the planet, pretty much."
GOOD DAYS ON THE HILL
We asked Mimi: Is 600 Morningview a rough block? Does the hill have its moments?
"Yeah, it has its days," she said. "We have our good days. We have our bad days. We have our blessed days. We have our storms."
What are the good days like?
"Good days are like a walk in the park where you can sit outside and laugh, enjoy yourself, come home from work," Mimi said. "Everybody sitting outside. The kids sitting outside playing, you know, somebody even barbecuing."
"We got people that come out and feed the community and people that come out and talk to us, knock on doors and give out flyers. How can we help the community? Them good days."
PART THREE: Hope in east side's crisis: 'We're working arm-in-arm'
KENS 5 journalist Sue Calberg lives on San Antonio's east side.
SAN ANTONIO -- There's been a lot of talk about the Promise Zone and good things coming to the east side. The talk is about hope.
Their motto is where we're headed. It's "Stay. Grow. Graduate. Stay." I know my friends and neighbors are working on that.
It's a promise that can't come to soon.
"That's all we hear," one resident told us. "The other night, like maybe two weeks ago: 'Bam, bam, bam, ba-bam, bam, bam.'"
Call it the soundtrack of our lives in east S.A., where things don't just go bump in the night.
Like here on Fargo Avenue, where a man was shot one time, but police picked up more than 50 spent shell casings one recent evening.
Things aren't much better on Sunrise.
"I came out the front door and heard about 10 to 12 shots," said one neighbor, an Army veteran. "I've been deployed three or four times, and so it brings back the PTSD a lot."
He said he didn't expect a firefight on his own street.
Another day, at another shooting, the police lights flash and a police chopper flies overhead as crime tape surrounds a shooting scene.
Shell casings and blood stains are on the pavement as medics tend to the wounded. Police carrying long guns and shields stop to shake hands with young boys at a bus stop.
Sometimes, it's the children who fall in this live fire zone. Kids like Kiana.
Balloons dance in the breeze, but this is no party. It's the way those who loved her continue to say goodbye to Kiana James, a 16-year-old killed two years ago in a drive-by attack.
"A boy shot her for no reason," says her brother, 8-year-old Christian. He remembers his big sister, the girl who loved Fruit Loops cereal and laughed really loud.
"We don't forget her, but we move on because she's in a better place," he tells us. Do you miss her? He nods.
Little Leana knows they are marking what would have been her sister's 18th birthday.
"I like when she used to be kissing me and I like when she used to be hugging me and she'd teach me how to ride bikes," she said.
Kiana's friends wear angel wings in her honor, and together they grieve.
"We love her. We miss her," they said. "We don't want to see nobody else having to go through the stuff we go through, having to plan balloon releases for our sister or get-togethers to remember her."
"She should be here with us and us not having to go through all of that," they said through tears. "So we don't wish that on nobody else."
WE'RE COMING TOGETHER
As their prayers take to the sky, back here on earth -- in the earth -- change is sprouting.
"As far as things that the community is doing, number one, the community is coming together, and the east side is being taken back," said Cherie Mixon, a church minister.
Gardopia is a community garden that is taking root in one of the areas that has seen the most violent crime. Created and maintained by volunteers, it's one of many new projects in the Promise Zone.
"There are several different entities -- out-of-school programs, things for families, the Gardens -- there's so much that is coming together," Mixon said. "It's not one person or one entity standing alone. We are all working arm-in-arm."
That was clear at a recent "cardboard kids" rally against child abuse sponsored by many of the community partners who are building a better life on the east side -- one hug and one handshake at a time.
The message is clear: Stop the violence. Everyone's dream matters.
"It might be about getting parents to walk kids to school or it might be about My Brothers’ Keeper and helping them to be good men and good fathers in the lives of our children," said Tony Leveritt with the Promise Zone.
DO IT FOR OUR CHILDREN
Children are at the heart of lots of changes here.
- The Wheatley Sports Complex is a safe haven where they can play.
- Kids of all ages are enjoying the hike and bike trail along Salado Creek, building bridges to fitness and a better life.
- A $2 million upgrade is in the works for Martin Luther King Park.
And while police have been working diligently on solutions, it just may be the preachers who turn the tide.
"We have to start by being the example of love, one to the other," Mixon said. "That's what bridging the gap is all about: showing the love of Christ, giving of ourselves to serve our neighbor."
Neighborhood rallies are happening regularly as the faith community takes the power of prayer to the people who need it most.
On one recent night, they closed Martin Luther King Drive, turning away cars and giving the green light to positive change.
It’s safe to say that nearly every person in attendance had been touched by violence, so they stood, several hundred strong, united in silence.
Their solemn vow: We shall overcome.