In Mattapan, A 'Loss Of Innocence'

By Phillip Martin

Oct. 1, 2010

BOSTON — Boston police have executed a search warrant at a home in Mattapan where one of the victims of this week’s mass slaying resided.

Jackie Daughtry stands by a fence on Woolson St., where stuffed animals and balloons have been left to honor the victims of this week's shooting. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

The murders of four people, including a two-year-old boy and his mother, are being described as the worst shooting rampage in Boston since 2005.

The homicides come after several high-profile acts of violence in Boston, including the slaying of a pizza deliveryman, and have touched off a wave of anger.

On a street corner in Mattapan Square this week, the murder seemed to be the main topic of discussion and angst.

"I don’t know man," said one man who asked to be known only as French.

"Yeah," said another, Gary.

"The five people that died? The lady that killed with the kid in her hand," French said.

"The two-year-old." Gary said. "That's messed up, man."

"That’s crazy. It’s time to move, you know," French said. "I'm moving to a place with less crime. Think about it, Somebody that gets killed with a kid in her hand. That's crazy."

A Neighborhood Stunned

Shell-shocked would not be too strong a phrase to describe how people in this hard working and hard-bitten community felt when the news seeped through the neighborhood. A mile from Mattapan Square on Woolson Street, longtime neighborhood resident Shirley Senior recalled what happened.

"All I heard was the shots. And I saw the ambulance and everything. It’s a shame that massacre. I was petrified. I heard the six shots. I shut the lights off in my room," Senior said.

A makeshift shrine on Woolson Street honors the victims of this week's shooting. (Phillip Martin/ WGBH)

"I went back in and I was just shaking and I started crying," Senior remembered. 

Altogether, four people and an infant were murdered. The victims were stripped naked at 23 Sutton Street, shot execution-style, and left in the streets. A fifth person, the only survivor, was dumped on Woolson, across the street from Shirley Senior’s home. He’s now listed in critical condition.

Leaning on a porch railing in the safety of daylight, Senior says the murders have shaken this neighborhood. But the killing of a baby has had an even more profound effect.

"I thought about my own two-year-old great grand(child). I thought about other people’s. I feel for the people's," Senior said, pausing with tears in her eyes. "But I truly feel for that baby."

At a news conference earlier this week, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino laid bare his anger and frustration. "Cowards hide. Let me tell you. Mattapan is strong, and will not let them hide," Menino said.

Indeed, dozens of tips have been pouring into the Boston police from a neighborhood that has been generally distrustful of law enforcement.

A Legacy Of Violence -- And Renewal

It’s not the first time that outrage has prompted people to action. In 1992, youth-gang violence was rampant in the area and it spilled over that year into the nearby Morning Star Baptist Church on Blue Hill Avenue. When a group of young men interrupted a funeral service with an exchange of gunfire, black clergy publicly declared, “Enough."

They joined with Boston police in laying out the Ten Point Plan, aimed at tackling drug abuse and drug-related violence. But now, the homicide rate for the entire city has inched up in recent years. Since January, murders have increased by 32 percent compared with the same period last year.

Reverend William Dickerson of the Greater Love Tabernacle Church he has buried an determined number of residents killed in gang-related violence over the last five years. "You know, I lost count to be truthful. I don’t even know. It’s unfortunate that we run out of how many we actually buried. I buried a father and a son together," Dickerson said. "I buried a sibling four years later, and buried another sibling that was killed at the same spot."

40 Woolson St., in Mattapan. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)
40 Woolson St., in Mattapan. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

Although the national conversation has settled on foreclosures, illegal immigration and joblessness, some communities across the state -- including neighborhoods in Boston, Brockton and Springfield among others -- are still focused squarely on drug-related violence, which police believe is connected to this latest homicide in Mattapan.

A Rising Tide Of Violence

But sometimes, here and around the city, the violence seems just random. In Mattapan Square, Samuel Tumore, a grandfather, shows me the scar where the knife went in.

"They cut me wide open. Just before I got to Cornfield’s drug store. I stopped in Solomon’s to get some fish and he asked me for two dollars and I said ‘I got grand kids’ and I got my fish and I walked away. I didn’t know he was behind me," Turner said.

"Next thing, I hear a lady say, ‘you stabbed that guy." They cut me wide open. I don’t know what’s going on with these kids," Tumore said. Samuel Tumore says he was lucky ten years ago. His nephew was murdered eight years later.

But Tumore says the killings this week in the Woolson street neighborhood are unlike anything he’s ever experienced in his 50 years of living in this area.

The Reverend Eugene Rivers, one of the founders of the Ten Point Coalition, agrees. "15 years ago there were rules. Increasingly, we do not get a sense that there are any rules which logic does not appear to pertain currently," Rivers said.

"This recent shooting. It has more of a Colombian feel to it. It appears to be a summary execution. That is not something that we are accustomed to in the city of Boston. Four and a half people being summarily executed and dragged out into the streets in the way that they were….is something very different."

And as in many community crises, explanations for what happened cascade like a rushing river.

"It could be a cluster of things. It could be the economy. It could be how people are living," said one person. "It could be somebody who was just pissed off that day. It could be anything."

Jackie Daughtry mourns her first cousin, Eyanna Flonory, who was killed with her two-year-old son, Amani Smith. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

Another offered, "There have been some shifts in the nature of what we’ll call the political economy of violent crime."

"We have to tackle that spiritual problem," said a third.

Honoring The Victims

On a fence at 40 Woolson Street, near where the bodies of one of the victims was found, teddy bears, balloons and flowers have been placed in their memories. Jackie Daughtry is the first cousin of 21-year old victim, Eyanna Flonory of Brockton, and her 2-year-old son, Amani Smith. She placed a stuffed toy next to the others, and paused over the spot.

"Sad, very sad. They didn’t have to kill the baby. Actually none of them. Very sad," Daughtry said.

Police have located a van and a gun believed to have been used in the crime, and they reportedly have suspects in mind. Law enforcement is asking for the public’s help in finding those responsible. It may be too early to describe this particular crime as the 'tipping point,' but never has this neighborhood experienced an execution that included the killing of an infant -- what some might regard as a literal loss of innocence.

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