- Associated Press - Sunday, August 9, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - When the sun drops low in the sky, Dorothy Fisher’s heartbeat quickens. If she’s out, she hurries home. If she’s in, she locks her front door.

She has lived in her red and yellow three-decker on Seaver Street for 60 years, but at night, she is a stranger: the street belongs to the young men with guns in their waistbands and scores to settle.

“I pray every day,” said Fisher, 71, sitting with her mother and sister on the screened-in front porch they rarely enjoy for fear of errant bullets. “I say, ‘God, it’s time for you to come down here now. There’s too many bad things going on.’?”

Fisher’s neighborhood is among the most violent in the city, designated a “hot spot” by the Boston Police Department, which has flooded its narrow streets with extra officers. Since May, there have been six shootings in a quarter-mile radius of Fisher’s home. The latest was Tuesday night, when 31-year-old Grisel Sanchez was shot to death as she walked through Puddingstone Park - an accidental victim, officials said, caught in someone else’s gunfight.

Life here is shaped by a fear that at any moment, violence could erupt: residents say they keep their children inside, and tense up when unfamiliar cars cruise past. On front porches and corners, the same caution is repeated: bullets don’t have names on them.

“It’s sad you gotta get used to it, but it is what it is. It’s my neighborhood, I’m not going to stop coming to my neighborhood,” said Jeff Reyes, 27, who grew up with Sanchez and on Thursday was at the park to pay his respects. “I’m more open-minded to death. It doesn’t really bother me.”

Citywide, homicides in Boston have dropped this year compared with last. But in District B-2, which includes Puddingstone Park, killings have doubled, from five to 10 as of Friday.

A Boston police spokeswoman said the area is troubled in part because it sits near the convergence of three neighborhoods - Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan - where several gangs clash. Police target those areas, not only for extra patrols but for community events like flashlight walks, National Night Out, and pickup basketball games for police officers and kids.

“We’re out there,” said Officer Rachel McGuire. “We’re doing everything possible we can think of.”

Historically, the area has been plagued by shootings, stabbings, and killings.

In 2013, a man chased by police into the park during a drug investigation opened fire on officers; that same year, a person was wounded by a stray bullet at Normandy and Seaver streets - just as Sanchez was. In 2007, a 7-year-old accidentally shot and killed his 8-year-old cousin, Liquarry Jefferson, with an illegal gun in their Seaver Street apartment.

In recent months, the shooting victims include two brothers wounded in front of their 69 Washington St. apartment; a man shot in the back at 139 Washington St.; a man shot in the leg at 19 Ellington St.; and a man shot in the head at Erie and Ellington streets.

“This is the hood,” said one man who declined to give his name as he stood on his Seaver Street porch smoking a cigarette. “What can you do?”

Some said that despite the violence, home is home.

Tim Edwards, who lives on Pasadena Road, around the corner from the park, described a harrowing summer of close calls.

At the end of June, he said, his wife was nearly caught in the middle of a gunfight when a couple of young men opened fire on an unseen rival. A week or so ago, as his nephews played in his yard, Edwards said, men with guns showed up, and he confronted them. “Listen, the guys you’re looking for, they’re not over here. Put the gun away, keep moving,” Edwards said he told them. They left.

The night that Sanchez was killed, he said, he heard the shots, went to investigate, and saw a detective with a woman drenched in blood, screaming and crying. A short distance away, a small body lay crumpled.

Asked why he does not move, Edwards paused and then laughed.

“I love Dorchester,” he said. “I was born and raised here. And I feel like, this, here, the community has to come together, we have to unite. We can get rid of all these bad apples we have.”

Others, though, are simply trying to endure until they can find a way out.

Inside Puddingstone Park, candles still burned late last week for Sanchez, a mother of three, and a steady stream of mourners came to pray and keep the wicks lit. Nearby, landscaper Shaun Cox spread mulch around the lilacs and sunflowers that border the park. He was uneasy working there alone, and hurried to finish.

“The more you stay to yourself out here, the better,” he said.

Cox, 34, knows the gangs and he knows their beefs, which corner is fighting with which corner. He stays out of it - he went to college, actually lives in another neighborhood now, and is saving up to leave Boston altogether. He’ll head for North Carolina, he said, with its slower pace.

But for now, Cox follows the rules of his hometown. He is careful never to stand in a group - “You don’t know who has problems with who” - and never to talk to a girl walking by, for fear that she’s somebody’s girlfriend.

He monitors his surroundings closely, ears open for the sounds of a fight.

“If you hear somebody arguing, walk the other way,” he said, working with his head down and sweating, as he pushed his wheelbarrow across the grass. “Probably the worst thing you can do around here is not mind your business.”

For Fisher and her family, even shutting themselves away no longer feels like a guarantee of safety.

On Tuesday, two bullets from the gunfire that killed Sanchez tore through their building’s first-floor apartment, where Fisher’s sister lives. Luckily, her sister was not in her living room. But the family is tormented by the randomness of it all. At any moment, they feel, anyone could be a victim.

Thirty years ago, Fisher said, her father took the family dog, Fritz, for a walk. Two men in Puddingstone Park robbed him. They took $60, then one of the men pulled a gun. But the other had a change of heart. “Let the old bastard go, you already got his money.”

And so he lived.

Fisher’s sister happened to be in another room Tuesday when the bullets flew into her house. And so she lived.

Sanchez was walking down a familiar path. But at the wrong time. And so she died.

Fisher can’t stand it. She wants to leave.

“But where we going?” she said ruefully. Her sister chimed in. “And how we gonna get there?”


Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), https://www.telegram.com

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