Once one of those good kids, Tim McGee, tells
the story every mother dreads: How he became one of the most feared cop shooters in
Seattle. Its a story more of hope than fear, he reassures, but be warned. Hes
still praying for great confrontations. Just not the kind you might think.
his childhood Tim McGee had heard about Jesus, gone to church, been prayed over and prayed
with. His mother had even moved their family from inner-city Chicago to the safety of the
Seattle suburbs, where McGee became one of the few high school sophomores to make the
varsity basketball team.
So what went wrong?
Its the kind of question you might put to 25-year-old McGee with a bit of
apprehension. At 6-foot-4, he can be pretty intimidating. More intimidating still is the
size of his record: assault, burglary, drug possession, manslaughter. By police accounts
hes been one of the most feared gang members in Seattle.
So maybe McGees answer is no surprise, not in a year when too many headlines have
told about good kids resorting to violence. And yet, despite the six shootings the past 12
months in white, suburban neighborhoods and on school grounds, its still an answer
thats unsettling and mysterious.
For McGee, simply: Rage happened.
It didnt start so dramatically. First there were small frustrations. Looking for
more belonging than what he felt at home in Chicago, 9-year-old McGee found identity in
the neighborhood gang. At 13 he was angry for being forced to leave his friends and family
in Chicago, and angry that his father wasnt there. Within a year McGee was enraged
at a world that told him he couldnt be anything but a dangerous loser. In June 1991
he was charged with shooting a Seattle police officer in the leg (he beat the assault
charge when it couldnt be proved who fired); in 1992, when attacked by a group of
sailors after a football game, he gunned down three of them. One died.
Serving 18 months in a Washington State prison for killing the sailor, Tim McGee had
his greatest confrontation.
"Jesus won that battle," he says.
Now Tim McGee is seeing to it that others at least have the opportunity for that same
great confrontation. He goes to college, works in maintenance, serves as an evangelist and
youth worker for Mount Calvary Christian Center, speaks as a volunteer chaplain to kids in
policed detention centers, and represents Mothers Against Violence in America as a
God has given him something the gangs never could, he says in this interview
"a future." Before its too late, he pleads with parents, talk to your kids
For most of your youth you had the reputation of being a
dangerous gangster. How bad were you really?
If I said "Lets go do this shooting," the gang would do it. I held a lot
of power in one of the original gangs in Seattle, the Black Gangster Disciples. We grew
from 20 people to 2,000 in two years. In the 11 years I was in gangs, I was well known by
the police and judges for selling a lot of drugs, shooting a police officer, gunning down
the three sailors one died. But these were just the things that got publicized. I
got away with a lot of other things: fights, drugs, messing up peoples property ....
A lot of people expected the worst of me. I did too.
All I knew was street life. Id get frustrated or angry and mess around and end up in
trouble at school, in the neighborhood. I hit a kid over the head with a pop bottle once.
I got into drugs.
Why were you growing up on the streets? Did you have a bad home
No, my mom was good to me. She tried to teach me right. She took me to church. Shed
always tell me she was praying for me and tell me about God. She loved me and I loved her,
but I cant say we were close. We didnt communicate a lot. I wish she would
have sat down, talked to me and encouraged me more, not just when I was in trouble, but on
a consistent basis.
Did you ask these things of her?
My mom isolated herself. Shed come home and go to her room and that was that.
Because she wasnt more open with me, I didnt tell her my problems.
Looking back what do you think was the greatest problem?
Fear. In the gang, first you feel fear. Then, because you cant live with that, you
harden yourself to it. Things get out of hand.
How is it, after things got so far out of hand, that you turned
your life around?
Ultimately it was God tugging at me. Because Hes so good and merciful, God knew if
He could get me out of all the drugs, violence and gangs that Id be His positive
What do you mean?
I always knew right from wrong. I always knew I was a better person and wanted to change,
but couldnt seem to figure out how.
When I was in prison, a church choir came and sang for us. One of the women warned:
"God is giving you a chance. This might be your last chance."
It was like God talking to me. I decided when I got out of prison I would go to church,
and I did go seeking God.
Then one of my friends accidentally shot himself and died. I went to his funeral at
Mount Calvary Christian Center. I had been to 56 funerals in 11 years, but for the first
time I wasnt there high.
About 800 gang members were there. Pastor Reggie Whitherspoon was preaching and kept
hitting on no matter who you are, no matter what other people say you are, you have a
purpose. "It doesnt take a special purpose to shoot someone, deal drugs and die
young." he said. "Gang members arent who you are. Thats who you
become. You can do anything you want if you try. Just trust God. Hes given you a
I was raised in church and never heard anyone of God say that without condemning me.
Pastor Reggie Witherspoon was the first man who said I could be something different.
Instead of talking about me, he was talking to me.
How did that change you?
Before I left gangs I was ruthless. I was everyones worst nightmare. When you meet
me now the way I dress, my demeanor the way I speak, the way I carry myself
if I didnt tell you, youd never know I was an ex-gang member. A lot of people
knew the old Tim. Now they see the new Tim and it blows their minds. Instead of leading
kids into gangs, Im going into the same area where I gang-banged, leading kids to
Christ. All the credit goes to what God did in me through the church.
What have you seen God do that means the most to you?
Ive watched more than 500 gang members change their lives because of what they saw
God do in my life, but Monche Hunter is special. Seven or eight years ago I led him into
gangs. Monche had always idolized me, looked up to me as a big brother. When I changed my
life I witnessed to him. It didnt sink in right away. He had to go to jail first.
While he was in jail God began to work in him. He began to seek God, pray, read the Bible.
He remembered everything I told him about my life. Today hes a born-again Christian,
going to church.
Who are these kids, like Monche and you, who have turned to gangs
A lot of them are regular people, average kids. They have good families and good parents.
But most parents dont even know their kids are out doing these things, and the
streets begin to have more influence on the kids than the parents do.
Why do you think that is?
Because these kids dont have a sense of purpose or a vision for their life. When you
dont know who you are, you go through life defining yourself by what other people
Its a process, too, years and years of believing what other people say about you.
Inside, youre hurting and dying because you feel the world has let you down. To
cover up your pain, you rebel more. You sell more drugs. You shoot people. You arent
born a criminal, a gang member, a drug addict or violent overnight. You become that.
How can parents tell when their kids are slipping away, into
Children are going to be a product of their environment. If parents want to know how their
children are going to turn out, look at their environment: the things they see, things
they do. Dont just send them to school. Find out whats in the school, know who
they hang around. If your kids friends are drinking, dying and going to jail,
chances are your kids are going to drink, die and go to jail too.
What can parents do to keep their kids from turning to gangs or
Pay close attention. Dont wait for the problems to come. Set up a consistent
relationship now. Encourage on a daily basis. Make them feel confident and free, like they
can share anything. Also find out what your kids vision is. Show your kids who they
are; then put them in that environment, monitor them and make sure they stay on the right
That sounds too simple.
Maybe, but a lot of parents dont know their kids. They may know their kids have this
kind of habit or like that type of food, but they dont really know their kids
hurts and pains and how theyre making sense of those things.
Really knowing your kids and making it safe for them to tell you things takes constant
conversation with them not just about surface things, but about deep things.
What if your kids seem unresponsive? Can you be in their face too
In the beginning kids may not come out, but if they see their parents are understanding
and really want to know about them, really care about them, then one day when life is too
hard to handle, theyll know they can go to their mom and dad.
How many things would be different if you had the chance to talk about it first?