With the recent spike in violence, there's a warning for parents tonight - gang members may be targeting your children.
Western Mass News has learned that kids as young as 12 years old are being targeted and gang members are lurking around schools looking for their next recruit.
"A lot of kids these days are looking for that that big brother," said David Serrano.
Serrano is a former Springfield gang member. Growing up without a dad, he was just 15 when he went looking for a mentor.
"I met this guy who was a brother and he was like 'Oh my God, the way you speak. The knowledge that you have, I think you'll do great in this nation'," Serrano explained.
That nation was the Latin Kings.
Within years, Serrano was promoted from a soldier to a high ranking king - something he says made him proud.
However, when his 18-year-old Ivan Pena was stabbed in the heart in 2000, Serrano decided this life wasn't for him.
It's been more than 15 years since he left.
"I don't think I could go back to the way I was because it would be scary for me now," Serrano added.
Serrano said that nowadays, gangs don't fight with their hands. "All these kids right now, pulling out guns is unbelievable. They don't pull out a gun because they're tough. They pull out the gun because they're scared," he added.
Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield police department confirmed that gangs are starting to target younger kids. "They're actively recruiting younger kids ranging from the age 12 to 15 years old," he said.
"[There are gangs that will kind of lurk around the schools?] I call them knuckleheads - knuckleheads because they're not supposed to do that. You're not supposed to go looking. They're supposed to come to you," Serrano explained.
Serrano added, "[What is the main thing that they said they wanted from the organization?] Love, a lot of love. They wanted a lot of love and we gave it to them as much as possible."
Kathleen Curley, a former teacher in Springfield, says she witnessed gang recruiting first hand - lurking around the schools, searching for their next victim.
"It was just horrible to see these kids that came in as freshman....young kids happy ready to go to school and then you see them a month or two months later totally different," Curley said, adding that she believes the age gangs recruit children has a lot to do with what is going on in their life at the time.
A lot of the parents here in Springfield don't have the means to give then what the people that are doing wrong have.
Delaney noted this is larger issue, saying "Gangs are not just in Springfield. They're in every city across this country."
Springfield gang intelligence shows that gangs in Springfield are based on location, so if you move, you join another gang - sometimes, based out of schools.
Delaney said if your child is going down the path - skipping school or wearing a certain color often - there are police officers who will go directly to your home and talk to them.
Often times, gangs represent their affiliation by wearing different colors, which is why many schools in Springfield have changed dress codes to uniforms, in an effort to help crack down on gang representation within schools.
Courtesy 2015 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.