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Dorchester shooting tears at a vigilant mother

Where worry is a constant, violence hits

Kids in the neighborhood had been setting off fireworks for days, so when that first bang sounded Tuesday night, Theresa Johnson assumed it was more kids and more fireworks.

But this time, she didn’t hear the distinctive fizzle of descending lights. She heard only a pop. Then two more — pop, pop — and screeching tires.

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As she crouched slightly behind her dresser, she heard a shout. “Mom, I’ve been shot!”

Johnson ran to her bedroom window, and there, bleeding profusely on the sidewalk, was the oldest of her four children. It was the realization of one of her deepest fears, yet his yells were a miracle. He was alive.

For years, she lived in a cycle of fear and relief: fear that one of her children would be shot or killed, then relief when they were not. A summer of that fear and relief was chronicled last year as part of a Globe series documenting life in 68 blocks of Dorchester, an area with an intense sense of a community but beset by chronic ills, guns, and gangs. Johnson grew up in the neighborhood and still works there, but now lives just outside of those 68 blocks in Bowdoin-Geneva.

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Her worry is constant. The wail of sirens sends her to the nearest phone — especially in the summer months when violence tends to surge — to call her sons, young men with pasts that involve gangs and guns, to make sure they’re OK.

This time her oldest, Lecian Dale-Johnson, 25, was not. His was the ninth shooting in five days in Boston.

And as he screamed for help, Johnson screamed, too. “Sean’s been shot!” she yelled before dialing 911, quickly getting dressed, and rushing downstairs.

He had been outside talking with the mother of his 4-year-old daughter. For nearly an hour, they talked in her car. They talked about parenting. They talked about the future. They talked about life. They talked too much for the preschooler, who fell asleep in the back seat. Johnson, who was just getting home, saw the two of them and called her son.She needed him to go to the store, grab a bottle of Pepsi and some cigarettes.

Five minutes after they returned from the store, a black sport utility vehicle “just rolled up and then shot,” said Tricia Ariol, the mother of Dale-Johnson’s daughter. “He just pushed me out of the driver’s seat.”

As Dale-Johnson shoved Ariol to the pavement, the first bullet struck his arm. Then, he jumped through the open driver-side door. In the process, he was struck twice more — once in the chest and once in the rear. “I’m just holding him, and he’s just on top of me,” Ariol recalled. “He was bleeding so much.”

When the SUV went screeching away, Ariol grabbed the 4-year-old, who was still in the car when the shooting occurred, and the trio ran toward the house. He was too weak to make the stairs, but she did, handing the child to his teenage sister, then racing back downstairs.

Police officers, who continue to investigate the shooting, arrived and told him over and over: “An ambulance is on its way.” And over and over, he pleaded with God: “Don’t let me die.”

Paramedics arrived, and Johnson begged to go with her son to the hospital. Inside the front seat of the ambulance, the driver turned to her and said: “I know it seems like I’m going to be driving slow, but they’re trying to put an IV in him.”

As doctors rushed to care for Dale-Johnson at Boston Medical Center, his mother’s panic peaked. She could feel her blood pressure rise and her chest tighten. She couldn’t breathe. She needed fresh air.

Outside, she inhaled, took a drag from her cigarette, and steeled her nerves. She had calls to make. She had to call her oldest daughter, who was at work. She had to call her mother.

As she waited for word on her son’s condition — the bullet shattered the bone in his arm, requiring surgery — and family to arrive, Johnson was alone with her thoughts. “Do I move?” she wondered. “Do I get Sean out my house just to keep him safe?”

She fears that her son, found not guilty on gun charges in a Quincy shooting just seven days before, will become defeated. He was arrested Christmas Eve morning in 2011 with two others and accused of firing gunshots out a car window. Last week, a jury acquitted him on all counts.

Now, he is working and does not run the streets anymore. Johnson fears the shooting will stop progress. She fears another shooter will find her street. She fears the way her other son will handle his grief.

And yet she hopes, too. She hopes that her sons see this as she does — a blessing. Everyone survived.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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