CHELSEA — Elder A. Morales routinely sat on the front porch of 52 Blossom St., chatting with his close friend who lived at that address, neighbors said.
On Tuesday night six men walked “purposely” toward them and one of them, his face partially covered by a bandana, took out a knife and exchanged words with the 21-year-old Morales and his friend. Seconds later, another man in the group, Manuel Castro, a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from El Salvador, took out a revolver and shot Morales at close range, hitting him in the chest and back of the head, prosecutors said.
Morales was taken to Whidden Hospital in Everett, where he was pronounced dead.
“The defendant himself, in tape-recorded statements with police, told them he is an 18th Street gang member and Mr. Morales was MS-13. . . . There’s a long-running feud between those two groups in the city of Chelsea,” said Mark Zanini, Suffolk assistant district attorney, during Castro’s arraignment in Chelsea District Court Wednesday afternoon. “The defendant also said that he shot the victim a number of times. The defendant also told police about his efforts to dispose of his jacket, clothing, gloves, mask, and gun,” Zanini said.
Fran Robinson, the attorney who represented Castro, of Everett, pleaded not guilty to murder charges on his behalf. Castro was ordered held without bail pending a probable cause hearing April 8. A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer was also issued against the defendant.
Castro initially told police his name was Jonathan Castro-Salas, but his true identity, Manuel Castro, was confirmed through fingerprints and the US Department of Justice.
A woman who lives at 52 Blossom said she was watching television just before 9 p.m. Tuesday when she heard two loud gunshots erupt from the street below. The woman, who declined to give her name, said she looked outside and saw Morales being pulled into the foyer of the multifamily three-decker by his friend who he had been sitting with him. “It was horrible,” the woman said. “When the ambulance came and put him on the stretcher, he wasn’t moving at all.” Police, aided by surveillance video, witnesses, and Castro’s alleged statements, arrested him just hours after the homicide, the first in the city this year. Chelsea recorded 11 murders in 2010, none in 2011, and two last year.
Tuesday’s homicide was similar to one in 2011 in Chelsea, carried out by Santos Portillo, 22, who identified himself as a MS-13 member.
Portillo, of Chelsea, was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison for fatally shooting Braulio Gomez of Chelsea. Portillo approached a group of men whom he did not know as they socialized on the porch of a Central Avenue residence about 2:20 a.m. on July 8, 2011, and asked what “set” — or gang — the men belonged to. When Gomez told Portillo that none of the men had ties to any gang, Portillo pulled out a gun and shot Gomez in the head, prosecutors said.
The MS-13 gang, considered by many law enforcement agencies across the country to be one of the most violent, originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants.
“The information I get from my detectives and my officers on the street, and so forth, as far as a gang problem in general, we don’t really see much of it in the city of Chelsea,” said Police Chief Brian Kyes during a telephone interview.
Residents of Blossom Street said their neighborhood is quiet and not prone to violence, despite being the scene of the city’s latest homicide. “I’ve lived here for two years and nothing like this ever happened,” said Ismeralda Perez. “I have my children living here and I was at work when it happened, so I was very worried about them.”
State Police investigators interviewed Castro’s relatives and friends Wednesday afternoon at the defendant’s home on Main Street in Everett.
Castro was employed as a painter for Crystal Painting in Everett and has a tattoo on his upper right arm of a devil face and ‘18th St,’ according to court records.Brian Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.