Metro

Boston officials worried about retaliation after four killings in four days

Police blocked off the scene of a fatal shooting on Whittier Street in Roxbury, near Boston Police headquarters.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Police blocked off the scene of a fatal shooting on Whittier Street in Roxbury, near Boston Police headquarters.

Boston has seen four homicides already in January, the most during this time frame in years, raising concerns about retaliatory violence among the city’s warring gangs, according to police.

The four homicides were unrelated, but the young men killed were all targeted and had histories of gang and drug involvement, police said. The victims ranged from age 17 to 22.

All four killings happened within four days in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Back Bay, and police have not made any arrests or publicly identified any suspects.

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Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he’s responding to the homicides by trying to work more closely with clergy and increasing the availability of social services to young people. Boston police last Tuesday convened a meeting of commanders from the gang, drug, and other units to discuss deploying resources to tamp down the violence.

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“We’re looking at what can we do, and what’s happening,” Walsh said last week, adding that he doesn’t believe the four homicides in a short span suggest a long-term trend.

“It’s hard to gauge violence on a two-week period,” the mayor said. “It’s too early in the year to say this is going to continue.”

The four killings are the most for this time period since 2014, when the city logged five as of Jan. 22, police said. Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy, a Boston police spokesman, said investigators are making progress toward arrests in two of the recent killings, though he would not say which ones.

“We get these retaliatory shootings with these different disputes that these groups are having — sometimes it’s over something as silly as an argument in a pizza shop,” McCarthy said. “And when you have that coupled with access to guns, the outcome can be deadly, and that’s what we’re seeing here.”

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Homicides in Boston reached a 15-year low in 2015, when the city had 40. Since then, the number has crept upward, with 49 homicides in 2016, and 55 last year, according to Boston Police. Last year also saw 16 young men between the ages of 16 and 19 killed in Boston — double the number of teens killed the previous year.

This year’s killings all took place between Jan. 11 and Jan. 14.

The first occurred about 1:45 p.m. on Jan. 11, when 22-year-old Alexander Mervin of Revere was shot and killed near 31 Whittier St. in Roxbury, across from Boston Police headquarters.

About 30 minutes later, Shaquille Browder, 21, of Roxbury, was fatally shot near the intersection of Columbia Road and Washington Street in Dorchester. Police say they found another victim suffering from a gunshot wound who had fled the scene. He was brought to the hospital and is expected to survive.

The third killing happened near Boylston and Gloucester streets in the Back Bay. Police say 24-year-old Jamal Bannister of Boston was shot and killed while sitting in a parked car at about 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 13. A second person in the car was also shot and is expected to survive, police said.

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The youngest victim, 17-year-old Chad O’Connor of Boston, was fatally shot a day later, on Jan. 14 at about 5:30 p.m., near the intersection of Kenwood and Washington streets in Dorchester.

Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, said he was concerned that the young victims, according to police, all had ties to gangs and drugs.

“If that’s true, it certainly cautions people and parents to remember how important it is to steer young people as far away as possible” from gangs, said Folgert, whose organization provides mentors, jobs, and recreational activities for low-income and at-risk youth.

“Prevention is a soft word, but when it comes to gang-versus-gang violence, it’s the only thing you can do,” Folgert said. “If you wait, it’s often ineffective.”

Rufus Faulk, former director of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, an antiviolence group, said the city has to do more to help young people cope with the emotional fallout from growing up in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods, where many have seen friends shot or killed and no arrests made.

“These kids are carrying that trauma with them, and that’s where we as adults have failed,” Faulk said. “I don’t think gangs cause retaliation. Retaliation is caused by trauma and by grief – and those are the two things we have to deal with.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.