• Help and hope for kids comes from gang member turned pizzeria operator

NEW YORK -- That Hector Torres owns a pizza shop is ordinary news in New York City. But a look into his past proves that life before pizza was anything but ho-hum.

According to a story published in the New York Daily News, Torres is the former de facto leader of the city's Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, a violent gang with hundreds of members.

Torres recently sank all he had into the Box Office Pizza and video shop in Washington Heights. The change of life, said the 42-year-old, "has been liberating, to say the very least."

Torres distanced himself from the gang to bring hope to young customers and a positive change to the community. A row of school books lines the counter of the shop, and when school lets out each day, the place fills with children who come to eat, help in the store and be tutored by Torres and his wife.

He said the kids come with questions about life, spirituality, education and current events, such as the war in Afghanistan.

Others come to learn more about Torres' life as a gang leader in hopes of emulating him; with those he works hard to change their focus.

Sixteen-year-old Aramis Gomez was one such kid Torres counseled. After his first talk with Gomez, the teen wasn't convinced Torres was right about avoiding gang life, and he still wanted to join the Latin Kings.

Over time, however, Torres won him over, and now Gomez plans to take his general equivalency diploma exam next month.

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