NEW YORK -- When one of her sons was gunned down, Louise Brown found the body on a street, streaked with rain and blood.
Rather than offer comfort, police officers there ''asked me for his Social Security number," she said, staring blankly and shaking her head. ''I'll never forget that."
More suffering was to come: Two more of Brown's five sons have died in shootings in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, the latest three months ago.
Brown's triple tragedy is a black mark on the city's well-promoted success story of less bloodshed across the five boroughs.
Citywide, serious crime is expected to fall for the 13th straight year in 2004. The homicide tally so far this year is down 4.4 percent from last year and should stay below 600 for the third year in a row, a level comparable to that in the early 1960s. New York had a record 2,245 killings in 1990.
Murder is on the decline nationwide. Several other big cities -- including Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago -- are expected to see their murder rates drop when the 2004 count is made, and an FBI report earlier this month said murders dropped by nearly 6 percent in the first half of the year.
Officials with the New York Police Department credit their success to a series of crime-fighting initiatives. One involves assigning a team of 1,000 officers to make more arrests in ''impact zones."
Still, through Dec. 19, killings were up by 40 percent in Brown's neighborhood of Bushwick, by 107 percent in the adjacent Brownsville section, and by 70 percent in Coney Island, where her third son was killed.
Why some poverty-stricken pockets of Brooklyn remain prone to surges in lethal violence defies ready explanation. Police say an entrenched drug trade can be a cause. But they also view some spikes as ''unconnected events happening closer together," said Paul Browne, top spokesman for the NYPD.
In Bushwick, Brownsville, and Coney Island, killings have slowed as enforcement was stepped up, with two murders recorded in those spots in the last month.
But it is too late for Brown.
In her third-floor apartment, snapshots show her nine grandchildren. She says they keep her grounded, until she thinks about how six of them are fatherless.
In 1991, the 53-year-old social worker was living in East New York, when she lost her oldest son. Darryl Jenkins, 22, was a bystander in an unsolved drive-by shooting, she said.
Six years later and three blocks away, Omar Jenkins died in a hail of gunfire. A gang member ambushed the 27-year-old for ''dissing" him, a prosecutor said at the gunman's trial.
In September, the fiance of her son Yusuf McEaddy, 32, broke the news that McEaddy had been murdered by a teenager outside a Coney Island housing project in an argument that began at a birthday party and spilled onto the street.
''I just dropped the phone and passed out," the mother recalled. ''I couldn't believe it."
Brown began the familiar process of identifying a bloodied corpse, collecting a death certificate, and planning a funeral she could not afford. The experience has made her wonder whether crime is down in any meaningful way, and how deadly weapons end up in angry young hands.
''I want to know where all the guns are coming from that are killing my kids," she said. ''Somebody should be held accountable."
She also fears for surviving sons Kiheem, 27, and Derrick, 17. Both have become fatalistic about life in the city.