As a packed MBTA bus pulled up yesterday afternoon to a Dorchester stop, several young men leaped on and exchanged angry words with a teenage passenger. Then one of them fired point-blank at the passenger’s head, leaving him critically wounded.
Boston police searched last night for the gunman, who several witnesses saw fleeing the scene along with up to five other young men. Witnesses also reported seeing the group run through the intersection of Washington Street and Columbia Road just before the 3:30 p.m. shooting.
The brazen attack, the latest in a string of unsolved shootings in Dorchester, brought the busy Grove Hall area to a halt. The single shot echoed through a nearby church, fast-food restaurant, a government office, and apartment buildings.
Some thought a car had backfired, but others recognized the sound of gunfire and dove for cover as the young men, including the shooter, ran away.
“You wouldn’t think of this happening on an MBTA bus in broad daylight with all these people around,” said Nathan Jones, a painter working inside an apartment building nearby. “It seems like nothing will be surprising anymore. The violence will keep happening, but nothing will be surprising.”
The unidentified victim, who police said was 18 years old, was in critical condition last night at Boston Medical Center. Police officials said his head wound was life-threatening.
“We’re hoping he pulls through,” Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis told reporters at the scene.
Once again, he appealed to the public for help in finding the shooter.
“The solution [to violent crime] lies with police working in close cooperation with the community,” Davis said.
Police would not say whether the shooter knew the victim, and other passengers were not available for comment.
Two young people have been shot to death this month in Dorchester. Quintessa Blackwell, 18, was slain March 9, and Chiara Levin, 22, last Saturday. Their killers remain at large.
In all, there have been 14 homicides in Boston this year, compared with 10 at this time last year.
“People are shocked, outraged, and there is some sense of fear and nervousness,” said the Rev. William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle, which is near the shooting scene. “We’ve reached a point where people are so cold-hearted they will shoot people in broad daylight.
“Their behavior is becoming more overt and audacious; they are so defiant of authority,” he said of the young men involved in violent crime.
The shooting occurred just hours after the New York-based Guardian Angels began patrols in Dorchester.
Guardian Angels leader Curtis Sliwa said that his patrol was about a mile away at the time of the shooting.
Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said the shooting occurred on the Route 23 bus, which was outbound headed to Ashmont from Ruggles.
Sabina Jean, who lives two blocks from the shooting site, said she heard one shot from several blocks away and saw people scatter. Jean said she rarely sees police on foot patrols in the neighborhood, but said she does see feuding youths.
“I don’t think they’re scared of each other anymore,” she said. “They just do what they want to do. I’m thinking about moving out of here.”
One woman working at a government office across the street from the bus stop said she was startled and confused by the gunshot.
“I just heard a big noise like a backfire,” said the woman, who declined to identify herself. “It sounded like a gunshot at first, but then I remembered there was construction going on. It’s just so sad.”
The shooting marked the latest in a troubling string of violent episodes on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority buses and trains, which have 1.1 million boardings each workday.
On Feb. 26, three Boston teenagers were arrested and charged with stabbing another teenager at the Back Bay station a week earlier. Two weeks ago, two men were convicted of second-degree murder in the 2005 shooting death of a 17-year-old teenager aboard an MBTA bus in Roxbury.
And earlier this week, two men were convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting of a pregnant woman on a crowded Orange Line car in 2003. The woman was struck in the abdomen, and the baby died shortly after an emergency delivery.
Dickerson said he has scheduled a community meeting on youth violence at his church on Monday. He said he believes that yesterday’s shooting may be the last straw for a community fed up with street violence.
“It’s been violent in that area before, but it’s unfortunate we’ve gotten to the point where the minority, the people shooting guns, has made it so difficult for the majority,” Dickerson said. “It has to stop.”
Globe correspondent Michael Naughton and Mac Daniel of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.