Police had a good idea who fired the shots that killed 16-year-old Jonathan Dos Santos as he rode his bicycle down Fuller Street Wednesday evening, heading for his aunt’s.
The likely killers had been anything but careful, staging the ambush during daylight hours in full view of horrified neighbors. The incident was also captured on surveillance video.
The challenge was how to safely bring in the very young suspects — one of them just 14 — and to arrest them without risking harm to the boys or to officers or triggering further violence in an already fraught neighborhood.
So police turned to the boys’ mothers, and their mothers turned them in.
One mother drove her son into Boston from Rhode Island so he could be arrested, said a police official, and the other mother got her boy on the phone and told him he had to go to police.
Dushawn Taylor-Gennis, 16, of Dorchester, and an unidentified 14-year-old from Mattapan are accused in the murder of Dos Santos. They will both be tried as adults, authorities said.
“We locked up two young kids, basically children,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said. “It’s a terrible tragedy, three young lives.”
Beyond relief that the arrests were made safely, much of the focus Saturday was on the strength of the mothers.
“I think that the amount of courage that it took for them to make the decision to resolve it is something that we should all take pause and reflect on,” the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, said of the actions of the mothers in assisting law enforcement. “We have too many unsolved homicides, and it’s going to take everyone to help resolve these cases. It’s extremely tough; it’s one of your own.”
Both boys will be charged with murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, said a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley in a statement. Under state law, juveniles charged with murder are subject to the same penalties as adults, spokesman Jake Wark said, and their cases are open to the public.
They are scheduled to be arraigned Monday at Dorchester Municipal Court.
Evans said police are still working to determine a motive for the shooting but said all three boys knew each other.
“I don’t think this is a random act,” he said.
A law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said detectives are looking into whether the killing was gang-related. Another law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said Dos Santos was “set up.”
“We got some good leads in the case, there was surveillance video, good witness accounts, and other kids helped us solve this case,” the official said.
Evans said that information from the public was crucial to solving the crime. Many witnesses came forward, he said.
Dos Santos’s mother, Laura Fatima Dos Santos, said she had prayed to her namesake saint, Our Lady of Fatima, to find her son’s killers. She told her family Friday that she believed the attackers would be caught Saturday, she said in Cape Verdean Creole, which was translated by family member Shante Ramos.
“She said she prayed all night to God to have the killers caught,” Ramos said. “She felt it in her heart.”
Around 1 p.m. Saturday, police arrived at her home, just blocks from where her son was gunned down, to tell her that her prayers had been answered.
When Dos Santos learned that the boys who allegedly killed her son were just 14 and 16 years old, she was stunned.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” she repeated. As she spoke Saturday, her home was filled with friends and family. Her 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer, whom Jonathan doted on, sat outside wearing a pin on her shirt emblazoned with her brother’s smiling face.
The last time Laura Fatima Dos Santos saw her son was Wednesday afternoon, when his McKinley Preparatory High School teachers took the ninth-grader to lunch at the Prudential Center to reward him for improving his reading skills, she said. The group stopped by the Sheraton Boston Hotel, where she works.
“He went to say goodbye to his mother,” Ramos said.
Dos Santos does not want to speak to the boys accused of killing her son, but she wants to see them.
“She said the tears that [are] coming from my eyes, they have to show my eyes who murdered my child,” Ramos said. “She just wants to see their faces so she can see who killed her son.”
On Saturday afternoon, Boston police searched a home on Mora Street, which public records link to the family of Taylor-Gennis. No one answered the door at the home.
The investigation is continuing as police look for more clues, executing search warrants to find more evidence including the murder weapons, according to one of the law enforcement officials briefed on the case.
A block away, at the scene of the shooting on Fuller Street, one of Dos Santos’s cousins hung poster boards covered with notes family and friends had written to “JoJo.”
“I’ll forever miss you,” read one.
“Our family will never be the same,” read another.
Beneath the posterboards, people had left mementos: teddy bears, candles, Airheads candy, and a Tropicana Berry Punch juice carton sat on the pavement.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he was disturbed by the youth of the suspects and the victim, and said the city was trying to re-energize the gun buyback program that started last year.
“We need the community to help us take back the streets,” Walsh said. “We can’t have young teenagers running around the streets with guns. First of all, they should be in school, they should be working, getting summer jobs. Not carrying guns.”
Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, said that the youthfulness of the suspects was tragic, but that young teenagers with guns was not unheard of. Often, older gang members will give guns to younger children, either because the older members do not want to be caught by police with the gun, or because they want to give the child a shot at “proving themselves.”
“It’s a way for them to earn their stripes,” Folgert said.
With teens that young, Folgert said, adults need to take talk of gang affiliation seriously, because a young person on the fringes can quickly be swept up.
“Very quickly, gangs develop rivals. And that drives them closer to each other for safety, and it makes their lives instantly dangerous,” Folgert said. “And if any adult, or big brothers, or anybody, can see any evidence of gang affiliation, that’s an alarm bell to get us up and moving, and try to get the kids to do anything, including relocating if they have to, and not go down that road. Because sadly, they can feel very trapped.”
He praised the fast police work, and said that the killing had been a huge concern for young people.
“So many tragedies here, people that young,” Folgert said. “It’s always horrible, but this is so profound.”
Near the scene where Dos Santos was shot, James Dixon, 38, was out Saturday afternoon. He has two young children. He said the mothers did the right thing.
“There used to be rules, you don’t kill kids, you don’t kill women,” he said. “That’s not the case anymore; these kids have to worry about getting shot.”
Globe correspondent Jackie Tempera contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.