THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Lurking danger part of life on Woolson Street

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By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / September 29, 2010

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Violence is no stranger to Woolson Street.

The five-block stretch of Mattapan looks much like many others — worn triple-deckers, families struggling to get by.

But over the past two decades, at least 12 people have been shot, stabbed, or killed on or near the street. Most notoriously, in 1992, a group of men stormed into a funeral at Morning Star Baptist Church, stabbing a mourner nine times.

Residents here have learned to live amid the violence. But early yesterday, the fatal shootings of four people, including a toddler, brought this hardened community to its knees.

“Coming from the old school in the ’80s, there used to be rules to the game,’’ said Carlton Welcome, 48, a personal trainer who huddled with a group of men on Woolson Street yesterday. “If you were a child or a woman, you let it go.’’ Back then, he said, women and children were not to be harmed. “Today’s youth, there are no more rules,’’ he said.

For those who raise their families and go to work here, survival means living behind a wall of silence, a source of frustration for police trying to catch the criminals and community leaders working to keep the peace.

The fact that one of those killed yesterday was a toddler jarred even crime-hardened longtime residents.

At a day care on Hosmer Street, Juliet August put her toddlers down for their afternoon nap and mused: “I have 10 children under my care. What can these children do to you to make you shoot them?’’

As a drizzle fell on the street, clergy leaders vowed to offer counseling to residents traumatized by the violence, and one minister called the shootings painful and depressing.

“We feel we are a victim of what is going on,’’ said Hugues Lafond, an elder at Temple Salem of Seventh Day Adventist Church on Blue Hill Avenue.

Community leaders say things had been relatively quiet on Woolson Street, but police contend that at least one man was found shot there late last month. The crime watch in the neighborhood has long faded because interest waned, said Councilor Charles C. Yancey.

“Like many areas of Boston, we do have issues in terms of gun violence and drug activity,’’ he said. “I am shocked that this violence is taking place.’’

Rhonda Valbrun, 47, a Woolson Street resident, blames a lack of police presence, as well as neighborhood resolve, for the ongoing crime problem.

“Just like police are here now, they need to be here all the time,’’ said Valbrun, pointing to a sea of police cars and officials on the street. “There is a lot of prostitution and a lot of drug dealing here. . . . It seems like everyone who gets out of jail, seem to come to this block [near] Blue Hill Avenue.’’

At the corner of Blue Hill Avenue and Woolson, Eugene Franklin, 71, and his friend, Bobby Johnson, 55, had a heated exchange about what needs to be done to increase residents’ safety.

Johnson said police need to do more to patrol the hot spot for crime at night, when trouble often occurs. But Franklin blamed his neighbors who, he said, should get more involved. The police, he said, cannot be everywhere.

“If you have a determined criminal,’’ Franklin said, “no amount of police is going to stop you.’’

As police searched for the killers yesterday, a woman who said her son was killed 22 years ago rushed onto Woolson Street, worry wrinkling her face. The killings resurfaced the pain she said she is trying to put to rest.

“Every time I heal, and something like this happens,’’ said the woman, who did not want to be identified, “it just opens up the wounds again.’’

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com.

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