In the midst of Pioneer Day revelry, a Salt Lake youth was shot Saturday in gang crossfire while his family gathered in nearby Liberty Park for a reunion.
Sepeti Vaenuku, 17, was struck once in the knee following a gang fight that ended at 859 S. Park St. (540 East) - less than a block from Neighborhood Fair festivities.Vaenuku was transported to LDS Hospital, where he was in fair condition Saturday night, Salt Lake police Lt. Scott Folsom said. Police had scoured the neighborhood after groups of black and Tongan youths exchanged words in the street near Vaenuku's home.
At least five shots were fired from two guns during the altercation, Folsom said. After Vaenuku was struck, the suspects fled west through an alley, firing shots at neighbors who chased them.
Vaenuku was identified by his brother-in-law, Wayne Lilo, 23, who was in town from Palo Alto, Calif., for the family reunion. Lilo, himself a former gang member, criticized the violence that stems from gang affiliation.
"If you're going to claim a color, that's not going to block a bullet," he said. "If you want to get in a gang, make sure you want to die that way."
Neighbors in the area gathered outside their homes, waiting to speak with police.
Mac Roy and Susan Curtis have lived next door to the boy's family for more than 10 years and watched Vaenuku grow up. They said they knew of Vaenuku's gang affiliation.
"We thought it was getting better," Mac Roy Curtis said. "We were hoping he was getting out (of the gang) somehow."
Rick and Jean Tueller live nearby and said the Saturday shooting reinforced their plans to move from the neighborhood.
"I've got two children to worry about," Jean Tueller said. "We were planning on moving in December, but now it's going to be sooner."
Other than the shooting, Folsom said there had been little crime reported from Liberty Park.