Portland’s most dangerous streets

Published: Feb. 12, 2023 at 9:35 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Throughout January, the memorial for Amado Santos Tello grew almost daily, reflecting the love and support that was showered on his devastated family: dozens of flowers, candles, messages, photos and even the 24-year-old’s favorite snacks (Cheetos and REESE’S) and drinks (White Claws and beer).

“We’ve been having family over, praying,” said his older sister, Erica Santos Tello. “Everybody who loved him came and checked in.”

The gas station attendant, better known as “Nacho,” was the first person to die in a shooting this year. Portland police said he died Jan. 16 in the hospital after he was shot at the 76 gas station at the corner of NE 102nd Avenue and Glisan Street.

Then February hit. The funeral is over, the flowers are wilting, and messages pasted to the family’s chain-link fence are fading in the elements.

“Everybody went back to their lives, so now it’s like we are kind of on our own and that’s when it gets to us,” his sister said.

“The pain that we feel – you can’t put words into it,” added his oldest sister, Graciela Santos Tello.

“He was a pretty loud person, he is unique, too – he was a caring and loving person,” Graciela added.

Their little brother, who they remember as generous with friends and family, as well as loud -- the life of the party-- was gunned down in the very neighborhood where he lived and worked: Hazelwood.

It’s also the neighborhood that saw the most shootings citywide last year.

“Why all this violence?” Erica Santos Tello said. “What do they get out of it?”

According to Portland police, there were 137 shootings in Hazelwood in 2022. That averages out to a shooting every 2.5 days, in an area that’s only four square miles.

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Those shootings hurt or killed 36 people and at least 564 bullets were recovered on the same streets that some 25,000 Portlanders call home.

It’s the reality for people who live and work in Hazelwood, and one intersection has especially been hit hard by gun violence.

FOX 12 Investigators analyzed newly released Portland police data to reveal what appears to be the epicenter of the violence: East Burnside Street and 122nd Avenue; the most dangerous spot of the most dangerous neighborhood when it comes to shootings.

Last year, there were 27 shootings within a half-mile radius of the intersection.

The statistics are no surprise for people who live in the area.

Kelly Brady lives at the corner of the intersection. He hears and sees a lot, including one shooting he witnessed a couple of months ago.

“They were going slow and he was just coasting in while one guy was walking along side – it was odd,” Brady said. “Maybe 1:00 morning, 2:00 in the morning – all of a sudden he walked toward the street. It was a quiet night, then bam, bam, bam, nothing.”

Karen Cruz’s children go to Ventura Park Elementary School nearby.

“I won’t let them be outside unless I’m there,” Cruz said of her children. “They can’t go walk around the neighborhood, that’s not going to happen right now.”

A senior David Douglas High School said he witnessed a shooting right outside his apartment in 2021.

“I saw it outside my window,” said 17-year-old Brandon Herrejon Zavalaza.

FOX 12 spent hours in Hazelwood talking about gun violence with those who live in the neighborhood.

Some neighbors are afraid to go out at night, some wish they could move, others simply chalk it up to life on Portland’s gritty eastside.

“I’ve seen it all,” said Isaiah Payne. “I’ve experienced it myself. It is what it is.”

Payne said he lives in Gresham, but spends much of his time traveling around Hazelwood and surrounding neighborhoods making house calls as a barber

He said he’s lost friends and family members to gun violence.

“I feel like a lot of people get left out out here. I wouldn’t necessarily say neglected, just forgotten,” Payne said of the neighborhood.

At Herrejon Zavalaza’s apartment building, there were at least six shooting right outside the complex last year, but the 17-year-old said he isn’t fearful and hardly notices.

“I’m not that affected by the gun violence,” he said. “It’s just something that happens in the background. I’m focused on other things. I want to go to college; I want to get a full ride somewhere.”

SEE ALSO: Report: Downtown Portland Clean & Safe finds troubling trend of needles on streets

The difference between day in night in Hazelwood also changes both the perception of safety and the reality. Most of the shootings happen after dark.

That’s why Officer Michelle Petty and other members of Portland Police’s Focused Intervention Team work the night shift.

The 12 officers and two sergeants of the so-called “FIT” team” are dedicated to investigating shootings, and use intelligence, tips, and tactics to try to prevent them.

“If we can reduce the amount of guns that are on the street, that can hopefully provide a safer community,” Petty said.

FOX 12 spent some time with Officer Petty and other FIT officers in Hazelwood, as well as other neighborhoods on Portland’s east side.

“It’s hard to make a turn on any street in the city and not have a connection to a shooting we’ve gone to,” Petty said.

During our ride-along, officers kept their eyes peeled for familiar cars or face and ran license plates to see what might be reported stolen.

It’s all part of the strategy to try to stay one step ahead of the violence.

It’s no easy feat, as the bureau will only investigate shootings where someone is killed or hurt.

“With thousands of shootings happening in one year, one team with 12 officers can’t manage that, you know,” Petty said.

Portland Police estimate at least half of all shootings in the city are related to gang violence, other shootings are often tied to robberies, people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence.

“I, going to these calls and people in the community who witness these things, we’re actually seeing this victim and we’re hearing their painful cries or like a family after they’ve lost a loved one,” Petty said.

People of color are much more likely to be impacted.

“It touches my heart because a lot of these victims reflect people who look like me or look like my family so it’s challenging, but I would say we’re seeing a lot of African-American males who are victims of gun violence in our community,” Petty said.

In Hazelwood, more than half the population is white but most of those who’ve lost their lives are Black or Hispanic.

Families ripped apart and forever changed.

“As you can see in the pictures behind us, he had a beautiful smile,” Graciela Santos Tello said.

For Amado Santos Tello’s family, they’ll never think of these shootings as simply statistics.

It’s personal -- the toll measured in grief, loss, and love for a young man gone too soon.

“We made a promise to my brother, the day he got buried, that we’re going to get justice for him,” Erica Santos Tello said.

Santos Tello’s family believes Nacho was mistaken for a gang member because he was wearing a blue bandana at the time of the shooting. His family said he was never involved in gangs, but they think that’s why he was targeted.

SEE ALSO: 1 dead in NE Portland shooting, no suspects yet

Santos Tello’s family said he did not know the person who shot him.

Portland police are still looking for the suspect in the shooting. Anyone with information should call detectives or contact the bureau. Tipsters can remain anonymous.