South Boston, now a vibrant beacon for the young, reels over attacks

In recent years, young professionals from across the region have flocked to South Boston, drawn by its vibrant social scene, improved waterfront, proximity to downtown jobs, and burgeoning housing market.

Twenty-four-year-old Amy Lord, a digital media analyst and aspiring wedding planner, was one of them.

On Wednesday, the community, buzzing with what many described as the neighborhood’s new youthful energy, was reeling as word spread of Lord’s abduction and slaying and attacks on two other women early this week.

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“I’ve felt nauseous since I heard about [the stabbings],” said Maureen Dahill, cofounder of the popular Caught in Southie blog. “As the mother of a 17-year-old daughter who comes and goes from this town, the news makes me sick.”

The influx of young people in the past five years, Dahill said, includes many who cannot afford the steep cost of living in Charlestown and Beacon Hill, but are drawn to the excitement of city life. Among them, she said, are “a ton of young, beautiful, professional women in their twenties.

“You see them everywhere,” she said. “There is a whole new positive energy around town.”

People young and old expressed shock that the attacks on the women occurred so suddenly, and in such quick succession. Lord apparently was kidnapped on her way to the gym early Tuesday morning.

“Such a young life was cut short. . . . It definitely hit home as a young woman,” said Raquel Andrade, a 27-year-old student who was walking with her boyfriend on West Broadway. “I don’t walk around late at night, and if I do I bring my boyfriend as my protector.”

Roselynn Sequeira, 23, of Roxbury, and Denise Teixeira, 24, of Brockton, decided to go for a run along the shore at Castle Island Wednesday night, but they agreed that they would not have done so alone.

“I think that women who want to exercise at night should take safety precautions,” Sequeira said. “They should always bring a friend, even pepper spray.”

Teixeira said that Lord’s slaying only added to her fear of walking alone at night.

“I’ve always been afraid of what can happen when I’m outside in the dark. This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened.”

Many expressed shock that such crimes could occur in a place that, for many, seems far removed from the violence-tinged era of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, on trial a short distance away.

“Southie was the one place in Boston you knew was safe, a place where people do the right thing and go to church, you know?” said Skye Gauthier, 21. “It’s messed up what happened.”

In front of his athletic shop on West Broadway, Bill Hartford said he was now concerned about the safety of local runners who jog late at night.

“A lot of people run in the dark because it’s unbearably hot,” said Hartford, 47, who has lived in South Boston his whole life.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of a murder like this here. I’m thinking about friends who I haven’t seen around in a few days — maybe I should check in.”

Melanie Rokes, 36, a neighborhood runner who had stopped by Hartford’s athletic shop, said she may be more cautious about going for a run after dark.

“As a woman, I always ask myself around 9 p.m.: ‘Is this OK? Or is this not OK?’” she said.

Barbara McDonald, executive director of the social service agency South Boston Neighborhood House, said the violence against women in particular is what disturbs her most.

“It’s upsetting when anything like this happens, but it’s really frightening when it’s aimed toward women,” she said. “We are not accustomed to seeing violence of that type in this community. One of the reasons why so many young people, especially women, have been drawn here is because it’s safe.”

But Irene Soares, who was on her way to work as a caregiver, said that acts of violence could happen anywhere.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter your race or where you live; we are all people, we all bleed,” Soares said.

“This is scary. We have to look out for each other.”

On West Broadway, just minutes from Lord’s apartment, mothers walked Wednesday night with strollers, couples held hands, and 24-year-old Fallon Chow listened to her iPod as she walked home.

“My family was really concerned when they read that a girl my age was kidnapped only a few blocks from my house,” she said. “I received a lot of calls and text messages.”

Upon hearing of the attacks, Andrea Muccini, who runs The Ultimate Self Defense & Performance Center on B Street, sent a public message via the Caught in Southie website offering free self-defense classes to the women of South Boston.

Chow said she will think twice before waiting for a bus alone at night, but she is not concerned enough to enroll in self-defense classes.

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