Saskatoon

Caswell Hill teens write letters detailing escalating gang violence in neighbourhood

Two Saskatoon teens write about what it's like living in a neighbourhood where gangs are becoming a violent presence.

Parents 'felt numb' after reading what their sons wrote

Officers tape off a murder scene in Caswell Hill. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

The letters speak of gangs, blood and fear.

They shook the Caswell Hill parents to their core.

"When we went and read the narratives that they created after we asked them to, I felt numb," the father told CBC. "I had never realized how much this had impacted them."

The teens' letters were sent to the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners as part of a larger package from the Caswell Hill Community Association. 

The parents and teens are not being named because they fear for their family's safety.

The association is asking police to step up their presence in the neighbourhood and wants the city to find a way to shut down known gang houses.

The family has lived in the area for more than a decade. Violence has crept into the neighbourhood that borders the north downtown over the past five years, and the parents say they've discussed it often with their two sons, now aged 14 and 16.

"We've talked to our kids throughout the past three or four years, touch base with them and make sure they're OK. We got a sense that they're OK," the father said.

But then came the shooting and standoff last month.

Gangs and a shooting

On March 21, police were called to a shooting on 26th Street West. Suspects took off on foot and holed up in a house — not far from where the family lives. Police ended up involved in an overnight standoff.

The parents asked the boys to write out how the experience affected them.

The narratives went well beyond what happened that one night.

"All I want to do is feel safe in my neighborhood and walk to the park without having to worry about it," said the younger teen.

He recalled an incident a year ago when it sounded like people were fighting right outside their house.

"In the morning my mom was out taking the dog for a walk and walked past a white truck with blood all over it. There have been times where we have to stay away from the windows because of gang or police activity in the area. I'm not allowed to walk alone."

The older teen wrote about trying to bike home but being diverted by police because they had a house cordoned off.

Later, he described his father rushing everyone into the basement because a man in the house across the street was waving a rifle. That's also when his mother took apart the playroom in the front porch.

A death in the neighbourhood

A major memory dates back to 2015, when the older son was home alone with his mother.

 "I spotted flashing lights outside the front of our house. Out of curiosity I stepped onto my house's porch. I saw an ambulance and two police cars. I saw the paramedics enter the house across the street," he wrote.

"I saw when a few minutes later they brought a man out on a stretcher with a paramedic administering CPR before loading him into an ambulance. I learned later that the man had been stabbed and was later pronounced dead at a hospital. This event more so than others has stuck with me as a 10-year-old me practically saw a man die."

In addition to asking police to step up their presence in the neighbourhood, the association is calling on fire inspectors to more aggressively enforce property maintenance bylaws.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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