QUEENS, N.Y. (PIX11) — The NYPD rounded up 16 alleged gang members in Queens during raids over the past week, Mayor Eric Adams, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, and Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Tuesday.

The busts were the culmination of a nearly two-year investigation sparked by the death of a mother who was struck by a stray bullet while out buying milk, an unintended victim of gang violence, officials said.

PIX11’s Nicole Johnson was with the NYPD in the predawn hours last Tuesday when dozens of officers surrounded an apartment building where some of the alleged gang members lived. Within minutes, a suspect was taken out in handcuffs. Eight alleged gang members were taken into custody during the bust. They’re accused of terrorizing NYCHA residents in the Astoria and Woodside Houses.

A total of 23 alleged members of rival subsets of the Crips street gang – some living in the Astoria Houses and others in the Woodside Houses – were at war over turf and power, according to the district attorney’s office. The suspects face various charges, including conspiracy, attempted murder, reckless endangerment, and gun possession in connection with numerous crimes and shootings, officials said.

In surveillance video obtained by PIX11 News of another incident allegedly involving the warring crews, purported gang members opened fire on each other as bystanders – including children waiting to buy ice cream – ran for cover. The shooting happened over the summer. 

“We are not going to tolerate the violence. The streets belong to the community. They deserve to walk the streets, get ice cream, they deserve to be in the playground and sit on park benches without having to deal with violence,” NYPD Sgt. Sandy Rodriguez told PIX11.

The investigation into this gang rivalry started about two years ago in March 2021, according to officials. Three teens shot at each other on a street, but their bullets missed their intended targets, officials said. Instead, an innocent bystander, Gudelia Vallinas, was shot in the head and killed while on her way to buy milk. The wife and mother of two young children was 37.

“We discovered multiple layers into this investigation that brought us back a few years about these two crews,” Sgt. Rodriguez said.

Vallinas’ death prompted police to take a closer look at the violence going on in her Queens neighborhood. Charles G. lives near the Woodside Houses.

“I remember I saw the posters hanging up and these kids were expecting their mother to come home and she’s never coming home,” he said.

While trying to find Vallinas’ killer, NYPD detectives said they discovered what was driving the gun violence at the two NYCHA complexes. So they zeroed in on the suspects – watching and tracking their movements while building a case. The NYPD’s raid on Feb. 7 was the culmination of their work.

“These takedowns have such a profound influence upon the communities around them,” NYPD Chief Jason Savino said.

The gang takedown happened as the NYPD was mourning the shooting death of one of their own. Officer Adeed Fayaz was shot in the head while off-duty during an attempted robbery and died several days later. The chief considered postponing the raid due to the timing but ultimately decided to go through with it in honor of Fayaz.

“We have to do this for Adeed. So this takedown is in honor of Adeed and if everybody could just have a moment of silence for him and his family,” Savino said.

Before sunrise, detectives in partnership with the Queens District Attorney’s Office hit multiple locations. Detectives arrested eight of the 23 suspects they sought in connection with the district attorney’s 85-count indictment. They arrested another eight suspects in subsequent operations. Seven suspects named in the indictment remained on the loose, as of Tuesday.

Most of the suspects were arraigned last week. They’re expected back in court in March. If convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison.

Police said with every gang takedown, they see an immediate change in the neighborhood.

“I can walk these streets, my mother can walk these streets,” said Sgt. Rodriguez, a neighborhood resident, said of the effect on the neighborhood. “My child and all of the other community members get to walk the street.”