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Fear surges after attacks in South Boston

In the hours after Amy Lord was found brutally killed, her body dumped in Hyde Park woodland, the phones at her former gym began ringing off the hook.

Women were calling to sign up for self-defense classes at Regan’s Motivated Fitness, and men were offering to escort female residents too petrified to walk around alone, said owner Tom Regan.

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Since Lord’s slaying and attacks on two other women, fear and resolve have gripped residents of South Boston, where young women are now walking in pairs, looking over their shoulders, or clinging to their dogs in an effort to stay safe. Some have flooded cab companies with calls instead of walking home.

And others, like 24-year-old Danielle Cugini, have been arming themselves with pepper spray.

“I’m afraid to go anywhere,” Cugini said Thursday as she walked her dog Lainey on West Broadway.

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The Police Department said that over the past two days it has seen an increase in requests for permits required to carry mace. On Thursday, there were 50 requests compared with just three on a typical day, said Boston police spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca.

To help quell fears, the Police Department has increased walking and patrol beats in the neighborhood, with officers going into bars and clubs to talk with patrons and help allay fears. Officers from the department’s neighborhood watch and city officials will be handing out whistles and brochures that offer safety tips at the municipal lot on West Broadway on Friday afternoon.

Police are also working with local gyms to hold self-defense education classes and teach residents how to recognize danger signs.

“We’re putting more walking beats out there, we’re putting more vehicles out there, we’re trying to reduce their level of fear,’’ said police Superintendent William Evans. “We understand the community is very upset. This is something that is unheard of in South Boston. I’ve lived here all my life. It’s a terrible tragedy no matter where it happens.”

At the state level, Lord’s death has prompted activists to call for mandating increased safety mechanisms at bank ATMs. Before she was killed, authorities said, Lord was forced to drive to five Boston ATMs to withdraw cash.

State Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, has sponsored pending legislation that would, among other measures, require the installation of adequate lighting, surveillance cameras, and emergency phones at bank ATMs.

The attacks, in particular, seem to have shaken sections of South Boston where the number of young urban professionals has surged. According to Census figures, South Boston residents ages 20-29 grew from 6,008 in 2000 to 9,672 in 2010.

Along West Broadway, a broad stretch of aging shops and trendy boutiques, Meghan McCaffarty, a 21-year-old new resident from Lowell, said that fear is especially raw and real for young women like herself who are now rethinking their daily routines.

“I work at a restaurant in the Seaport and everyone was calling me and telling me to take a cab because normally I’ll walk,’’ McCaffarty said as she waited at a bus stop.

Tara Doran, a 28-year-old South Boston native, said that while bad things happen everywhere, the attacks so close to home are especially frightening.

“A lot of my girlfriends are talking about getting pepper spray,’’ Doran said. “I’ve been considering it, which is not something I’ve done before.”

Half-sprinting through the rain Thursday afternoon, Marie Axen, a 26-year-old former South Boston resident, said that when she lived in the neighborhood she never feared walking around alone. Now she is worried.

“It’s freaking me out,’’ said Axen, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was walking on West Broadway on a visit to the neighborhood Thursday. “I didn’t even want to walk from the Red Line’’ stop on Broadway.

For 20-year-old Kayla Bolstad and her 16-year-old sister Erin Connolly — both South Boston natives — a sense of calm has been shattered. Connolly said she was shaken when her father called her Wednesday to see if she was fine.

“I never felt this way before — scared,’’ she explained. “It was a wake-up call.”

Several South Boston gyms, including some that are teaming with police, are offering free self-defense and martial arts classes to train women. Gene Frechette, an instructor at Ultimate Self-Defense & Performance Center on B Street, said that after the attacks, the gym felt compelled to offer free classes for women in the neighborhood, starting Aug. 5.

“We [want] to restore confidence back in the women of South Boston so they can feel better, feel more confident in protecting themselves, and hopefully learn to protect themselves in a dangerous situation,” Frechette said.

Regan’s Motivated Fitness on West Broadway, where Lord had been a member for at least a year, will offer its free classes beginning next week. In an e-mail to patrons, it lists safety tips that urge them to scan their surroundings, avoid dark and isolated areas, and trust their instincts.

Evans also has other has tips on staying safe: He says women should carry their keys, scream loudly, and fight.

Globe reporters Andrew Ryan, Billy Baker, and Joshua Miller contributed to this report. Correspondent Patrick D. Rosso and photographer Jessica Rinaldi also contributed.
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