HAVERHILL — A witness to a shooting inside a River Street multifamily house that left two men dead and two others wounded Monday night said she was confronted by one of three gunmen after she went to check on a ruckus in the kitchen.
“I opened the door, and there was a man with a black bandana over half his face, and he pointed a gun at me and told me to go back,” said the woman, whose name is being withheld by the Globe because she is a witness and the suspects are still at large.
The witness said that as she retreated, she heard four or five gunshots. She said she jumped out a back window of the sprawling white house at 629 River St. and started running. More shots rang out and residents began fleeing the house, the woman said.
The witness said she turned around only after seeing police and emergency vehicles race by her toward the house.
“That’s when I saw Billy,” the woman said, referring to William Melchionda, 19, one of the men fatally shot. “He was laying on the ground and looking to the sky and gasping for air. I had to leave, because I got sick all of a sudden from seeing him in that condition.”
The witness said she has known Melchionda for over a decade and is the girlfriend of his best friend. She said she was at the house visiting, as she often does.
Carrie Kimball-Monahan, spokeswoman for the Essex district attorney’s office, released few details on the shootings.
“It’s reasonable to say it wasn’t random,” she said by phone Tuesday. “We’re investigating what exactly happened. The victims were somewhat dispersed, and investigators are following leads and interviewing witnesses.
Kimball-Monahan said that ballistics evidence was recovered from inside the house.
Authorities declined to comment on the witnesses’ account.
Gene Cassell, who lives near the River Street address, said he saw the victim, Melchionda, on the sidewalk and another man kneeling over him and applying pressure to his chest wound.
Cassell said the victim appeared dead.
“It became clear why, because when his friend, the one who was standing over him telling him to calm down, removed the compression he was using, there was a hole in his chest, right in the middle, Cassell said.”
Cassell said he walked up Niagara Street and saw another body covered by a sheet in the back yard of the residence. Authorities identified the other deceased man as Anndy Guzman, 20, of Lawrence.
The female witness who was inside the house said Guzman did not live there and was not an invited visitor.
“None of us knew who he was or why he was in the apartment,’’ the woman said.
Two unidentified men were crouching in the front yard Monday night because they feared the gunman or gunmen would return, said neighbors.
At least five families live in the house. A man standing on a second-story balcony said Tuesday that Melchionda was a “great kid.”
The resident, who declined to give his name, also addressed claims made by neighbors Tuesday that illegal drugs were being exchanged or used at the house, and that activity led to Monday’s violence.
“Listen, I’ve lived here longer than any other resident here and I can tell you, without a doubt, that nothing like that has ever happened here,” said the man, who has lived there for 13 years.
Dozens of Melchionda’s friends Tuesday visited the spot where he fell. Some placed flowers or posters, while others simply stood in disbelief or consoled each other with hugs.
“I used to baby-sit him when he was a child,” said Danielle Lahaye, tears streaming down her cheeks. “He was such a nice boy, so cheerful and smiling. . . . He didn’t deserve this.”
Melchionda lived at the address for at least four months. Growing up, he spent time between Plaistow, N.H., where his mother lived, and Methuen, with his father resided. His parents were divorced.
Melchionda loved to go to the beach and hang out with friends. He attended Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow and was just months short of graduating, his friends said.
Mary Hartford, who left a poster at the spot where Melchionda died, said he was always the life of the party.
“Sure, he enjoyed a drink or two, but he was a young man,” Hartford said. “And yes, sometimes he hung with the wrong people, but he was a popular guy, and people wanted to be around him.”
The last homicide in Haverhill was a murder-suicide Jan. 11 in a car outside Winnekenni Castle. Martha McDermott, 38, of Hampton, N.H., shot her husband, Kristin Broderick, 37, of Houston, several times before turning the gun on herself, according to authorities.
Despite the recent slayings, Haverhill residents and shop owners were not alarmed, while others said it was evidence of a declining economy and vibrancy in the city.
In her Sweet Things Bakery on Washington Street, Dianne Moonoogian said crime may be more prevalent, but she attributes it to the bad economy. She said, however, it is no different from any other city.
“I travel a lot, but there’s nothing like home,” said Moonoogian, 70, who has lived in Haverhill all her life. “I have no problem walking home after work at night here.”
But some residents are concerned, saying life in Haverhill is a sharp contrast to the days when it was a strong industrial town. Betty Salerno, 76, grew up in Haverhill and remembers walking down Merrimack Street eating ice cream and talking to people at the shops.
“Everybody knew every one,” Salerno said. “It’s not like that anymore. I wouldn’t be out after 9 o’clock.”
Despite her caution, Salerno, who now live in nearby Atkinson N.H., said she does not think crime in Haverhill is as troublesome as in other nearby cities, especially Lawrence. Her brother, Joseph Cadorette, agrees.
“The crime is all over, and it’s migrating from Lawrence, if you ask me,” said Cadorette, having lunch with his sister at Mark’s Deli in downtown Haverhill.