Three shooting deaths within six hours late Sunday and early Monday brought the total number of homicides in Boston so far this year to nine, a dramatic spike that pushes the January death toll higher than any time in the last several years.
Officials say investigators are probing whether the last four killings are connected. All are believed to be gang-related and retaliatory. Those episodes were followed Monday afternoon by yet another shooting, this one nonfatal, in the Bromley Heath development in Jamaica Plain. It was also believed to be gang-related, but officials did not say whether it was connected to the other shootings.
That several of the January homicides occurred on freezing nights, when most people are indoors, is especially worrisome, said Emmett Folgert, head of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, which mentors young people.
The shooters seem more determined, more intent on killing their victims, he said. “This is a terrible start of the year, and it’s not standard.’’
“We’re not going to sustain really low homicide rates like we did last year unless we get these shootings down,’’ he said.
Responding to the shootings, Mayor Martin J. Walsh reiterated his plan to meet with community leaders and law enforcement officials to try to stem the violence. “This kind of violence cannot become commonplace; we should be shocked every time we hear of another shooting, of another death in our community,’’ Walsh said in a statement.
The number of killings in January, seven more than last year at the same time, is alarming, but not surprising, say community leaders who have studied the pattern of shootings in the city. Boston saw 40 homicides in 2013, 19 fewer than the year before, but the number of overall shootings, 245, remained about the same year to year.
Figures from Boston police show that the last time the January death toll approached nine was in 2008, when it stood at eight at month’s end. Officials could not immediately provide statistics on January homicides before 2008.
Residents along Rosewood Street in Mattapan were awakened around 2:45 Monday morning by at least a half- dozen gunshots. On the sidewalk, one neighbor saw a young woman lying on her side. A man lay wounded several feet down the street. Both victims, who were in their 20s, were taken to Boston hospitals, where they were pronounced dead, police said.
The gunfire was so wild that police found a bullet hole in the bumper of one neighbor’s Volkswagen and in a shutter on her front window. “I had no idea what was going on; I just heard, bang! bang! bang!’’ said Beatrice Owens, a retired nurse in her 70s who learned from police that her house and car had been struck. “It makes no sense.’’
About six hours earlier, a man in his 20s was fatally shot in front of a Tedeschi convenience store in the Ashmont neighborhood of Dorchester.
The names of the victims were not released.
“These aren’t random,’’ said Boston police Sergeant Michael McCarthy. Investigators “believe these were targeted victims,’’ he said.
Rufus Faulk, program director at the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a nonprofit that aims to reduce street violence, said the recent spike in homicides shows the city has yet to figure out how to stop back-and-forth violence. “Retaliatory gang violence has been happening for the last 30 years,’’ Faulk said. “We’re still on the same cycle. . . . This is a continuation of that pattern.’’
Police said it was too early to say whether a Monday afternoon shooting in the Bromley Heath development in Jamaica Plain was connected to the homicides, but Captain John Danilecki said the victim, a man believed to be in his 20s, is known to police.
The victim, who was not identified, is expected to survive. Two suspects were in custody, and police seized a gun, Danilecki said.
Two days before the shooting in front of Tedeschi, 22-year-old Trevain Keene of Boston was killed on Callender Street in Dorchester. Officials said the death is connected to the fatal shootings on Sunday and Monday, but they were not more specific.
On Jan. 18, Luis Arroyo, 21, the half-brother of a Roxbury gang member, was fatally shot on Blue Hill Avenue and Evelyn Street. It was not clear if his death was gang-related, but police warned of a possible backlash on the streets, according to internal police documents.
“Officers should note the potential for increased emotions among the victim’s family and associates and the potential for retaliation against whomever they perceive to be responsible,’’ the documents stated.
Commissioner William Evans has said he is worried about the high number of shootings in 2013 and is determined to take more guns off the street. “The commissioner is committed to reducing the number of homicides and going after illegal guns,’’ McCarthy said Monday.
Faulk said he wants to see the city engage a broader strategy, for example, helping young people traumatized by violence cope with what they have witnessed
“We need to remove some of the illegal guns that are finding their way into Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury, which is where the majority of the homicides are happening,’’ he said. “But there has to be a holistic approach . . . I’m worried about the entire city. It really only takes one incident for a neighborhood to become a “hot spot.’’ ’
On Rosewood Street, neighbors said they were still rattled by the violence. For years, their street, about a half mile from bustling Mattapan Square, had been quiet.
Owens, whose car and home were struck by bullets, has a small sticker on her door with a Bible verse from Isaiah: “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.’’
Owens said she still has faith in those words. “I really, truly believe it,’’ she said. “As the Bible says, ‘God protects his own.’ ’’