An East Side nightclub, where an 18-year-old woman apparently celebrated New Year's Eve before being fatally shot outside, was the target of an arson fire early Thursday.
Several firebombs were thrown into Club Alexis, 1155 Jefferson Ave. at Southampton Street, fire investigators said. A fire ignited just after 2:30 a.m. on the second floor of the two-story building, causing about $5,500 in damage. No injuries were reported.
The grieving family members of Marquita Akin are preparing for today's funeral for the Grover Cleveland High School senior.
She was the city's first homicide victim of 2007 and police are searching for her killer.
The firebombing Thursday is being investigated by the city fire marshal's office, Buffalo police, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Buffalo.
"It was an incendiary fire," said Lt. Sal Colangelo, commander of the fire marshal's office, who declined to be more specific about the cause of the blaze. "It appears to be a high profile investigation because of the circumstances and with past incidents there on New Year's."
Fire investigators searched the damaged building and collected several pieces of evidence, Colangelo said. The evidence will be sent to the Central Police Services laboratory for testing. Authorities said the nightclub was closed at the time of the firebombing.
Homicide investigators believe Akin and her friends were inside Club Alexis for New Year's celebrations early Monday. A fight erupted inside the club and spilled outside, where about 20 people were brawling in the street, police said.
Akin was shot outside the nightclub just before 4 a.m. on New Year's Day.
Buffalo police and State Liquor Authority investigators are trying to determine whether the club's registered owner, Cleotis Dean Jr., broke any laws on the night of the killing.
"The Buffalo police sent a referral to us and we're working with them on this investigation," said Bill Crowley, an SLA spokesman based in Albany.
Crowley said he could not discuss details of the pending case, but said that Club Alexis was issued a liquor license in September 2003 and has had no state liquor violations in the past.
Under state law, anyone under 16 years old must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when inside an establishment where alcohol is being served; therefore if the 18-year-old victim was inside the club it was not in violation of the law.
According to records, there were about 12 calls to 911 over the past six months reporting incidents inside the nightclub and at the intersection surrounding the nightclub at Jefferson and Southampton.
Most of the 12 calls were not violent incidents, but two were for shots fired, one was for a person shot in August, and one call reported a fight -- although some of the calls may have been false reports.
Marcia Scott, Ferry-Fillmore District police chief, said Club Alexis has not been a problem location over the past six months until the New Year's slaying and Thursday's firebombing.
"It's obviously a concern for us," said Scott. "With the firebombing, it might just put this club out of business for a while."