According to Billings public schools Superintendent Erwin Garcia, gangs are present in some of the city's schools, and the district is actively working to help combat the problem.
Garcia couldn't provide an exact number of gang-affiliated students currently in the school system, but he said it is a problem in all three high schools. On Thursday, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said seven juvenile gangs are operating in Billings and 60 youth parolees with gang ties are in the area, but he did not specify if any are in the schools.
“Gang activity exists in some of our schools," Garcia said Thursday. "In many cases, it’s kids that are trying to begin the steps that they see in the neighborhood."
Garcia said the district is looking at ways to make the campuses around Billings more secure. On Monday, an independent auditing agency will begin visiting 37 district sites to find ways to enhance security.
“We understand the reality that parents are very concerned, but in our schools, we are not going to tolerate any type of behavior or any type of passing drugs or gang activity,” Garcia said. "We need to get together and be united."
The recent gun violence involving youths around the community has many concerned, and many parents said that it's been working its way into the hallways of the school for the past few years.
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous because she also works as a teacher in the school district, said her daughter hasn't felt safe at Billings Senior High since she witnessed a gun being confiscated from a student in the hallways last year.
"She still for a very long time did not feel safe, and to this day doesn’t feel 100% safe," the parent said. “It really kind of messed with her because she felt safe at school and then at that point, it really broke the trust bond. I think she knew it was here but then to witness it firsthand was definitely a wake-up call.”
Billings Heights parent Jessica Gordon said there are problems happening in that neighborhood as well. Her son was threatened last year by a student at Medicine Crow Middle School.
“Another child came up to my child before school started and told my son that he was coming over tonight to shoot up our house,” Gordon said. "I am just literally in shock at some of the things that these kids are saying and doing and just taking it to the next level."
Garcia said he isn't aware of any guns have been confiscated in Billings schools in his three months on the job, but during Thursday's press conference, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said he recalled one or two guns taken at Billings West High from a student a few weeks ago.
Garcia said he believes increased security and awareness can help solve the problem.
"This is a difficult time for the community," Garcia said. "Now more than ever, we need to be connected because we don't want to have more innocent adults or innocent children dying in our community."
It's a problem parents fear will only get worse if changes are made quickly.
“The majority of all those kids, are sitting next to your kid in class and walking the halls and it’s like, what’s going to trigger them next?” the anonymous parent said. "I don't think it's a matter of if, I think it's a matter of when. I just hope my students are out of SD2 by then."
“It is heartbreaking to hear about all this stuff," Gordon said. "Every day you hear about another shooting. Something needs to change."