Gang life is the only way to survive in the troubled central Alberta community of Hobbema, say three teens jailed in the shooting of a five-year-old boy two years ago.
Presentencing reports prepared for the judge earlier this year describe how all three boys grew up in households where parents were substance abusers and violence was a part of daily life.
'I was in an ugly place in my life — not under the influence of anything — just not thinking right,' —Youth convicted of killing Ethan Yellowbird
The oldest youth, now 19, told a peer-sentencing committee, "If you weren't part of a gang, you were an outcast."
The youth's life was one of instability, being removed from his family at three years of age as his parents abused alcohol and drugs while frequently abandoning their children, the Youth Restorative Action Project report reads.
He was placed in 15 different homes over the next dozen years, eventually moving back to Hobbema to live with his mom.
This boy sharply criticized life on the Samson Cree First Nation reserve, saying that "almost everyone in Hobbema is drinking or doing drugs all day, every day."
Violence, too, is a part of daily life, he said, whether it's gang-related shootings or stabbings or family violence rooted in addiction.
The youth said he never felt safe at Hobbema because the gangs were always fighting with each other and "the police did not care because most of them were scared of the gangs."
Gang life pointless, says youth
He described gang life as pointless "as it was all about getting into trouble."
He said "nobody likes it, but also nobody knows how to stop it."
The youth described how one day a fellow gang member suggested he shoot at a house known to be a hang out of a rival gang member. He agreed and recruited two other members.
"I was in an ugly place in my life — not under the influence of anything — just not thinking right," he told the committee.
The home was where five year old Ethan Yellowbird was sleeping early on July 11, 2011, when it was sprayed by bullets. He was shot in the head and died.
The three teens, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in November and were sentenced last week to jail sentences varying from six to 18 months.
Youngest killer taken from parents at one
The youngest of the teens described an equally bleak existence on the reserve.
He was first taken from his family when he was a year old, then returning to live with his mom and dad off and on until age eight, when he and his siblings set fire to hay bales in back of their house while unsupervised and were removed permanently.
A few years later, the boy was expelled from a youth ranch for stabbing another youth. He returned to his mother's care, moving back to Hobbema and into gang life.
He began smoking pot at 10. Two years later he began binge drinking — doing break and enters to buy booze — and joined a gang.
His initiation was "shooting at a house on the reserve," he said in his presentencing report.
He described his involvement with the gang as "fun" — stealing cars, cruising around the reserve, partying while "just being gangsters."
After the shooting , the boy's own family home was targetted, with all the windows smashed, before it was torched and destroyed.
Shooter's own home shot up before killing
The third boy, who was 16 at the time of the Yellowbird shooting, said a few months earlier his own family's home was shot at while his mother and three-year-old brother were inside.
He told probation officers around the same time he was jumped by a group of young men wielding a machete and a golf club.
People who live in the community say they've been dealing with the carnage of gang violence for many years, but it won't go away until the issues at the root of the problem are dealt with.
"It's not going to go away anytime soon, so we might as well deal with issues that are pertaining to other things that we can help — the dysfunction, the poverty, the economic development," Roy Louis, a band member who works with the RCMP told CBC News.