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'Violence will not be tolerated:' Law enforcement teaches Scranton students about gangs

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Vanessa Paris speaks about gangs and urged children to walk away.
Aimee Dilger
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Vanessa Paris, speaks about gangs and urged children to walk away.

Following two gang-related incidents in Scranton, the school district and law enforcement taught students about gangs on Thursday.

“Violence in this community will not be tolerated. It will not be tolerated by anyone on this stage. It will not be tolerated by your teachers, your administrators,” said Vanessa Paris, resident agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Williamsport.

The West Scranton native investigates gang activity.

District administrators invited Paris and her colleagues to West Scranton High School on Thursday. After the January shooting of Scranton Police Det. Kyle Gilmartin and the arrest two weeks later of a 16-year-old carrying a loaded AR-style rifle near Scranton High School, the district needed to respond.

Federal, state and local law enforcement, along with prosecutors and elected officials, sat on the stage. The district broadcast the presentation so all secondary school students could see it. Acting Superintendent Patrick Laffey says teaching students about gangs is critical.

“I wouldn't say it's a Scranton School District problem alone,” he said. “It certainly expands to the much larger area which I think is why you see so many representatives from different areas outside the area here today.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski warned students of the consequences of gang activity. She told the students they never want to see her in the courtroom.

“Myself and my fellow colleagues, we're the end game.” she said. “We are the closers.”

Gerard Karam, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, said his office is willing to make presentations in other school districts. The problem isn’t specific to Scranton.

“This is across the country,” he said. “And this presentation was done simply to help educate the students and hopefully, make it a little easier for them to make choices when they're confronted with difficult decisions.”

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org