Shalimar Peguero was sitting on her front steps about 2:45 a.m. Saturday when the first volley of gunshots rang out, then, the second: louder, closer together. She had a clear view of Aguadilla Street the next block over, and she caught a glimpse of a white helmet.
“Oh my God, no,” she thought. She raced toward the gathering crowd and cut to the front to look at the man on the ground. Her friend’s boyfriend was always on his scooter, always in a white helmet, but she did not believe it could be him until she saw his face.
Niko E. Nunez, 20, lay on his back, arms stiff at his sides, his shirt torn to expose gunshot wounds on the side of his torso, she said. His mouth opened and closed as he gasped for air.
Nunez was pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center, according to Boston Police.
“Detectives are looking into the possibility that this may have been gang related,” said Boston police spokesman Officer James Kenneally. The killing was the 31st this year, compared with 26 at this time last year, Kenneally said.
Police have not identified Nunez. Nunez’s family and friends, who gathered near the shooting scene in the South End and gave his name, and said he was not in a gang, that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Witnesses said they heard between 10 and 20 shots. Stephanie Seferian, 30, said she looked out of her window to see sport utility vehicle speeding away. The neighborhood has become increasingly violent, she said.
On Saturday afternoon, candles burned on the sidewalk near where Nunez fell, and bullet holes pocked the tan stucco of the Iglesia De Jesucristo on Aguadilla Street.
“Those look like they hurt,” said Nunez’s girlfriend, Jennifer Rodriguez, 19, peering at the deep gouges, which marked the church on the front and both sides.
Rodriguez and Nunez had dated since the end of their freshman year in high school, said Rodriguez. Nunez was shot in the leg about three years ago, but it was not a serious injury, and he had begun getting his life on track when she became pregnant. They have a 7-month-old son together named Niko Jr., whom Nunez doted on, she said.
“He was a really good person, he had a really good heart,” said Rodriguez. “He was a good dad.”
Nunez loved to sing to their son, who Rodriguez said had just begun learning how to say “Papa.” Nunez took endless pictures of himself with his baby, which he posted all over social media — on his account and on those of his friends.
“If he was legally allowed to, he’d put him up on billboards,” said Nunez’s uncle, Orlando Velazco, 36 .
Rodriguez said Nunez talked about becoming a writer or an artist, and kept a journal full of stories about life in the city.
Orlando Velazco, 36, Nunez’s uncle, said police told him that there were two cars involved in the shooting. One car pulled past the spot where Nunez was standing and the other, an SUV, hung back, he said he was told. A person stood up through the sun roof of the SUV, he said police told him, and began firing. When people began running, Velazco said police told him, a person inside the second vehicle started shooting.
Authorities were not immediately able to confirm or deny that account.
Nunez’s family sat quietly Saturday afternoon in an open plaza down the street from where Nunez was shot, lighting candles with messages written on them in marker that promised not to forget Nunez.
Near the scene of the shooting, a group gathered, arms crossed, listening to music playing from a parked car.
Rodriguez said she viewed Nunez’s body in the morgue Saturday morning, and kept thinking he was about to wake up.
“I just wanted him to breathe,” she said.