NEW BEDFORD - Malcolm Gracia’s life ended in a barrage of police gunfire on Thursday night after the 15-year-old allegedly stabbed a veteran New Bedford detective working in the gang unit. The teen died nearly three years after his father was fatally shot in a confrontation with police.
Gracia had recorded several rap songs about his dad, Joseph M. Ramos Jr., lamenting that he never got the chance to meet him, said close friends. Ramos was 42 when he was shot to death by a Dartmouth police officer on Aug. 11, 2009.
The teen’s friends said he had a history of behavioral problems linked to his father’s death.
Mayor Jon Mitchell said at a press conference Friday that the attack, which occurred about 8:40 p.m., could have killed Officer Tyson Barnes, who was in stable condition at Rhode Island Hospital.
“Within an inch one way or another, he may not have been with us,’’ Mitchell said. “For some reason, the youth was carrying a hunting knife with a gutting hook and he saw fit to use it on a police officer. . . . This is, by any definition, a tragedy for the city and highlights the dangers of police work.’’
Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter said during the press conference that police had encountered two males near the basketball courts at the Temple Landing Housing Development and were attempting to talk with them when one of them stabbed Barnes, Sutter said.
“Other New Bedford police officers came to the aid of the injured officer and repeatedly ordered the male to cease and to get on the ground,’’ said Sutter. “But the male refused to respond to any commands and while still armed, began to move towards the other officers. After repeated instructions to cease, officers fired a series of shots at the assailant, striking him, and knocking him to the ground.’’
Sutter said he rose to his feet again, holding the knife, and moved toward the officers again. Police fired again, knocking him to the ground, Sutter said.
He would not disclose how many times Gracia was shot or how many times Barnes was stabbed, or whether Barnes was wearing a bulletproof vest.
New Bedford police Chief David Provencher called Barnes a “hard-working officer who has proven himself over time.’’
The chief said that he believes, based on the preliminary evidence, that his officers reacted appropriately.
Gracia “chose to dictate the means and manner of how that engagement was going to unfold,’’ Provencher said.
But about a dozen witnesses gave an account of the incident, saying they saw at least two officers with guns drawn chasing the teen up a sidewalk. The witnesses said the officers fired at Gracia as the teen was running and that he then collapsed on the sidewalk.
Brenda Aviles, 38, a mother of two teenagers who has lived at the development for eight months, said she was drawn to her window overlooking Cedar Street by noise.
“I was in my bedroom with my daughter and I heard people running, and I looked out my window and I saw a kid running and a lot of police running after him shooting, and then I saw the kid fall down on the floor,’’ she said.
Cameron Walker, 18, said he was playing basketball with Gracia about 10 minutes prior to the shooting.
“We were all out here for about 45 minutes or so, playing, and he walked away, around here,’’ Walker said, pointing toward the sidewalk on Cedar Street.
“I saw two officers running with their arms out holding their guns and running after him. They were immediately on his pursuit. And then they started firing. Malcolm just collapsed,’’ Walker said.
Barnes was sitting on the sidewalk, in obvious pain but talking with emergency medical technicians around him, witnesses said. EMTs were performing CPR on Gracia, who was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital an hour later.
Gracia’s sister, who is his legal guardian, gave birth just seven hours before her brother’s death, said her fiance.
Ryland Rose, still wearing a plastic identification bracket on his wrist, said at their home Friday afternoon that they had just left the hospital. Rose declined to give his fiancee’s name.
“We are so happy to bring life into this world, and we’re trying to focus on that happiness right now,’’ he said, standing at the family’s front door on Pierce Street, just a couple of blocks away from the housing Development where Gracia was killed.
Warley Williams, the interim principal at the Whaling City Alternative School, where Gracia was a student, said he was meeting with the school’s grief counselor to discuss how to offer help to the teen’s family and classmates.
“We send out our sincere condolences to his family. Our students districtwide have dealt with loss recently, with the death of two students recently to suicide. There’s a numbness here,’’ Williams said.
Gracia’s father was shot in 2009 after he went to a neighbor’s door on Milton Street in Dartmouth with a nail-studded pole and struggled with police officers who responded to the scene. His family is suing the town and officers involved, according to Jeffrey Denner, who is representing the family in the lawsuit. Denner declined further comment on the case.
Denner said Ramos’s paternity for Gracia was never legally established, but one of Ramos’ siblings was adamant that Gracia receive a portion of any recovery the family makes in its lawsuit.
Sutter concluded in March 2010 that the Dartmouth Police were justified in using deadly force against Ramos, who allegedly came at officers with a screwdriver.
During Friday’s press conference, Sutter said his evaluation of the Gracia shooting could take up to three months.
Gracia recorded a rap song about his father and his own life on Wednesday, said his close friend Ivan Fontanez, 15.
“I listen to it when I feel down, it’s crazy to hear his voice after what happened,’’ he said.
Fontanez and several other people who knew Gracia well said the teen didn’t have a place to live and was shifting from one friend’s home to another, sleeping on their couches.
“I told my mother yesterday that Malcolm didn’t have a place to live, that his life was crazy. My mother thought about it, and then she said yeah, he could live with us. Two hours later he was dead.’’
Brian R. Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John R. Ellement contributed to this report.