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Moments after joy, a tragedy

A Fenway Park celebration snuffed out by the deadly pop of pepper-powder-filled pellets, the wail of an ambulance siren, and angry epithets hurled at police had begun in far more familiar fashion.

Before the glass shattered, the pepper-powder guns fired, and a young woman lay mortally wounded next to Boston's baseball cathedral, the scene around Kenmore Square had followed the boisterous but predictable script, complete with drunken foolishness and petty vandalism that has come to be expected after titanic sporting triumphs.

In just an hour, what began as a raucous but mostly peaceful celebration of the Red Sox vanquishing their great rivals, the New York Yankees, had morphed into a clash between police and a small minority of bottle-throwing hooligans on Lansdowne Street.

In a muzzle flash, 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove was shot by police with a weapon that is supposed to be nonlethal, a pepper-powder projectile entering her eye socket in what appeared to be a tragic fluke.

The gathering began just after midnight, minutes after the game ended, when thunderous cheers erupted from dormitories and living rooms within walking distance of the ballpark. A flood of young fans began to converge on Kenmore Square.

"Dude, my whole street is filled with college students!" one young man yelled into a cellphone.

Chastened by their inability to control a riot that broke out in the Fenway after the Patriots won the Super Bowl last February, police had twice as many officers on the street compared with the Super Bowl. More than 300 police officers spread out around Fenway Park and Kenmore Square.

Dominicans ran through the streets waving their national flag, screaming, "Papi! Papi!" in homage to Sox slugger David Ortiz.

With the bright lights of television cameras on them, fans shouted a well-worn anti-Yankee epithet. Young men tore off their shirts. Young women climbed atop the shoulders of friends.

Within minutes, the crowd multiplied. Hundreds grew to thousands, then tens of thousands.

As people laughed, danced, cheered, and hugged on Lansdowne Street, known for its bars and nightclubs, others began to clamber on the steel superstructure beneath Fenway's Green Monster seats.

By now it was after 1 a.m. Police, who until then had been surveying the crowd and keeping it from storefronts, moved in. The mood, eyewitnesses said, grew increasingly tense.

A young man fell from the wall, about 12 feet onto his back. Panicked friends used their cellphones to call for medical help.

According to several eyewitnesses and Globe reporters who surveyed the scene, police watched steely-eyed as others scaled the wall. Some men and women, who had climbed nearly to the top, smoked cigarettes. Other celebrants stood on the steel supports and waved their arms and led the crowd in chants.

When too many students climbed onto the awning of one building on the corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street, a special operations officer climbed on top of a police vehicle.

He screamed at them to get down. Most complied quickly.

Over the next half-hour, the situation deteriorated further. Some fans in the crowd made the celebration seem more like an unruly mob. The smell of burning embers and anarchy was in the air.

"The police can't do anything!" one young man boasted to another as they raced down the street.

Some of the rioters began hurling objects at police. A sergeant, Charlie O'Neill, got hit in the face with a bottle that broke his nose.

At the command center, thanks to a small camera mounted on a pole on top of Fenway Park, Claiborne and other commanders could see the mayhem that had broken out on Lansdowne Street. It was decided that police had to do more than just make a show of force.

At about 1:15 a.m., about a dozen Boston Police tactical squad members walked from Brookline Avenue onto Lansdowne Street. All were wearing riot helmets, and some were carrying guns that fire pepper-powder rounds, mingling with the crowd at Gate E. The air gun-toting officers, known in police parlance as grenadiers, began firing pepper-powder projectiles at those on the Green Monster, trying to force them down. The discharge of the air-compression guns, similar to paintball guns, sounded like firecrackers: Pop, pop, pop!

Kent Anderson, 18, an Emerson College freshman from Kensington, Md., said he telephoned his father in Maryland and held up his cellphone so he could hear the raucous celebration.

"And then I looked up and I saw about 10 cops," he said. "They jogged over and opened fire on the kids on the [outside of the Green Monster] wall."

Young fans spilled onto the sidewalk. People began to scream.

Sean Cronin of Concord, a 20-year-old student at Berklee College of Music, said the shots into the crowd came without warning. "No one was taunting the police until they began shooting," he said.

Victoria Snelgrove stood nearby, with a high school girlfriend.

By now, bottles were being thrown at the police. According to several eyewitnesses, one crashed near a mounted officer, startling his horse. Moments later, an officer turned into a crowd, leveled his weapon and fired two rounds in rapid succession, according to Leif Anderson, 25, of East Boston, who said he saw the shots fired.

Stunned, people fled. "A girl was shot!" one yelled. "Blood is everywhere! She's not moving!"

Cronin said he angrily approached the police. "I was yelling, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Why are you shooting into a crowd? No one's being violent.' There were some chants of 'don't shoot us!' and '[expletive] the police!' I saw one guy get right in a cop's face, saying, 'You shot her. What are you going to do, shoot the rest of us? The cop pushed him and told him to shut up."

Anderson said one man, who lifted up his shirt to reveal a welt on his stomach that he said came from the police force, began to lead others in a chant.

"You shot a girl!" they yelled at the officers. "You shot a girl!"

The officers on horseback moved in, surrounding Snelgrove, who now lay on the sidewalk. An officer in a dress shirt and tie was screaming for the crowd to move away. Keep moving, he told them, or face arrest.

At first, bystanders seemed stunned, melting away, and she lay alone for a few moments. Then a young woman knelt down and felt her neck for a pulse. The woman held her hand.

Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Robert E. O'Toole, the commander of the department's Special Operations unit, stood on the sidewalk, yelling orders. Police formed a cordon so that an ambulance could come to the curbside.

Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole, who is not related to Robert O'Toole, was informed of the shooting and rushed to the scene. As calm was restored, Kathleen O'Toole talked with Mayor Thomas M. Menino by phone. For O'Toole, the shooting of Snelgrove was replete with tragic irony. O'Toole got the job as commissioner after her predecessor was judged to have been woefully unprepared for the Super Bowl riot. Now, despite all the planning, a woman lay dying.

At 12:50 p.m. Thursday, Snelgrove was pronounced dead at Brigham and Women's Hospital. A short time later, Kathleen O'Toole was informed of her death.

Aching with both exhaustion and sadness, she turned to an aide, and spoke not just as the police commissioner of Boston, but as a mother.

"I have to go see her parents," she said.

David Abel and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Heather Allen and Brendan McCarthy contributed to this report.Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com. Kevin Cullen can be reached at cullen@globe.com

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