BROOKLINE — The white Ford Focus tore down Beacon Street, made an illegal left across trolley tracks and two lanes of traffic, and zigzagged amid the salons, shoe repair shops, and sushi joints on Harvard Street.
Then it pulled to an abrupt halt halfway between Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village, and two bleeding men fell out, crumpling onto the pavement.
That’s how police and eyewitnesses described a harrowing scene that shattered the late-morning calm on Harvard Street, which apparently followed gunfire and a violent struggle on St. Paul Street and kicked off an investigation that remained underway late Wednesday.
Officials released few details but said five men “known to police” were involved. When the dust settled, three of those men were seriously wounded — the two found on the pavement near 75 Harvard St. and a third found bleeding in an upstairs apartment at 198 St. Paul — and two were on the run, one on foot and one in the Focus.
Brookline police put out a call for help locating the Ford, a rental car with New York plates reading GYR3714.
The car was later located, unoccupied, at 7 Albemarle St. in Boston, according to Brookline police spokesman Lieutenant Philip Harrington, and was transported to the Brookline police station.
Chief Daniel C. O’Leary said the wounded men, who appeared to be in their 20s, had suffered multiple stab wounds, while at least two had gunshot wounds.
It was not immediately clear if the third wounded man was shot as well, O’Leary said at an afternoon news conference, but all three were being treated at Boston hospitals and were expected to survive.
“As soon as we’re able to interview them, we hope to know more,” Deputy Superintendent Michael Gropman said.
Gropman said Wednesday evening that detectives already had identified the person who rented the Ford Focus in New Jersey and were “actively working leads in Boston and Cambridge” to track the two men who fled.
Given the ongoing investigation, police declined to identify the three wounded men or indicate what might have caused the bloody struggle. They also could not yet say whether all three were wounded in the same struggle, or if the two men who fell out of the car on Harvard Street had been dumped or opened the door and tumbled out on their own.
Police sought to reassure rattled Brookline residents.
“This is not a random crime, so we feel comfortable that the community is safe,” Gropman said. “Right now, we do have leads and we’re actively searching for the motor vehicle in question.”
The first call of a “disturbance” at 198 St. Paul came in around 10 minutes before noon, and while police were still racing to that address — an 11-unit apartment building that is part of an attached row of stately brick buildings just north of Beacon Street — they received multiple calls about the two men dumped and bleeding on Harvard Street, the chief said.
On St. Paul Street, police found blood and other signs of struggle in the stairway and located one of the gunshot victims in an upstairs apartment, the chief and Gropman said.
The Ford Focus apparently raced south from that scene, turned right on Beacon, made an illegal left on Harvard at Coolidge Corner, and dumped the men around 75 Harvard, less than a mile away, police said, citing traffic cameras and witnesses.
“We know one fled with the vehicle” — continuing south on Harvard — “and a second subject was seen running,’’ O’Leary said.
Jennifer Pieszak, a three-decade resident of Brookline, said she was on her way to the dentist when she saw a white car driving erratically on Harvard Street.
The car stopped, and one man got out without closing the door, she said. The car then pulled up next to a parked emergency medical vehicle, and two men who were clearly bleeding were thrown onto the ground, Pieszak said.
She then watched the white car race off, running a red light.
“I just don’t understand why this happened,” Pieszak said.
Nicole Veilleux said she watched the white car speed off from the window at Gateway Arts, where she works, but other than the speed did not think anything was unusual until police arrived.
Witnesses said both ejected victims were conscious and were aided by bystanders until police arrived.
An hour after the men were taken to the hospital, a hat and jacket remained in the middle of the taped-off road, and police searched for evidence nearby.
The two men were dropped across from St. Mary of the Assumption Elementary, a Catholic school, which was temporarily placed on lockdown. Two public schools — Pierce Elementary, a few paces away, and the Amos A. Lawrence School, near St. Paul Street — had temporary “shelter-in-place” orders, officials said.
In a statement, school officials called it a “precautionary measure while the police are conducting their investigation.”
On St. Paul Street, multiple neighbors in the connected apartment buildings and across the street were startled by the sirens and police tape but said in interviews that they heard no gunshots or sounds of struggle.
“What is happening?” one woman said, leaning out a first-floor window as a dozen police circled the taped-off entrance of 198 St. Paul across the street.
Donna Taube came down to mail a few letters and was stunned to learn someone had been shot in the attachment row of buildings where she lives.
“Right here? Oh, my God,” she said. “It’s not what you want to happen.”
Pictures of suspects vehicle at Harvard and Beacon. White Ford Focus NY plate GYR3714. pic.twitter.com/lhXwO43pEi— Brookline PD (@BrooklineMAPD) January 27, 2016
Locations in Brookline violence
Initial reports indicate that people were found in two locations, police said.
Andy Rosen/Globe Staff