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‘Our hearts are broken’ as two lives are lost in wave of shootings

Gunfire that claimed two lives rang out across the city Tuesday in three separate shootings within about 13 hours.

Dozens of mourners gathered at a tearful vigil early Tuesday evening in front of a West Side barbershop where barber Juan Ortiz Santiago was gunned down at about 11:30 a.m.

Religious leaders urged healing, prayer and forgiveness during a time of suffering, as a violent day in the city was ending.

“Our hearts are broken, and when your heart breaks, sometimes you can’t think clearly,” the Rev. Angel Gauthier, pastor of Prince of Peace Christian Church, said in Spanish translated to English during the bilingual vigil. “But I’m here tonight to tell you even though you’re broken, God can heal the broken.”

Gun violence also rocked two other Buffalo neighborhoods Tuesday:

• In the first incident, two 19-year-old men traveling in a vehicle in the 1600 block of Hertel Avenue were struck just before 2 a.m. by buckshot fired from another vehicle, according to Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.

• In the second, Buffalo police responded to a call of a person struck by gunfire in the 1000 block of Broadway just before 3:15 p.m.

The 22-year-old victim was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he died Tuesday night, Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards said.

Candles and flowers were laid in front of J. Santiago Barbershop, in the 500 block of Niagara, near Jersey Street, where family and friends wept and remembered Ortiz as a dedicated and caring family man.

Ortiz, 28, came from Puerto Rico to Buffalo seeking a better life and to take care of a brother here, said the Rev. Alberto DeLeon of Seven Marks Church, where Ortiz’s family is part of the congregation. Ortiz leaves behind a 1-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son and a girlfriend, Aixa Castro, who all attended Tuesday’s vigil, DeLeon said.

“He was a great individual, just wanting to improve his life,” DeLeon said.

“He wanted to improve his family’s life and the people around him. He was striving. He was trying to get it together so that he could be a great provider and even a better person.”

Police did not release any additional details about the shooting.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old man was rushed to ECMC after being shot at about 3:15 p.m. on Broadway and died of his wounds, police said.

The man was shot as he was coming out of Trendz, a clothing store at 1048 Broadway. He ran across the street and collapsed in front of the Broadway Mart, a convenience store at 1069 Broadway, near Sears Street.

The victim’s name was not released.

The gunfire started early Tuesday during a car chase involving two vehicles traveling west on Hertel Avenue near Parkside Avenue. The incident shocked residents of North Buffalo.

Police believed that the incident was gang-related and erupted after a birthday party Monday night in a Main Street motel, according to a source close to the investigation. One victim was taken to ECMC with wounds that were described as not life-threatening.

“From time to time, you get spikes in violent crime in different parts of the city,” the source said.

“It’s the same people getting arrested over and over.”

The shooting came after a spate of robberies in North Buffalo that started Thursday and included:

• A 58-year-old Huntington Avenue man who was robbed of a backpack by a man riding a bicycle early Friday.

• The gunpoint robbery of a Parkside man by a 15-year-old who hit him in the chin and then demanded his phone.

• The violent mugging by three men of a Coburg Street man who was walking home from a Hertel club when he was approached from behind, pushed to the ground, held down and hit repeatedly in the head.

“I was hit so quickly and then they were gone, I couldn’t identify anyone,” said the 37-year-old, who suffered a concussion and lost a week of work. “I got up and walked home. I was pretty dazed and confused.”

Dan Buckley moved from Bidwell Parkway to North Buffalo in August.

“I grew up in this neighborhood, and there really hasn’t been any issues that I know of,” said Buckley, who owns a catering company.

“I’m quite surprised at what I’m hearing. Everybody kind of looks out for everybody in this neighborhood, too. Am I afraid? No, but I will be more aware. Will I say something to my girlfriend? Yes.”

Todd Ward, of Rugby Road, a longtime resident of North Buffalo, offered this theory on why crime has spiked:

“The criminals know where the money is. Obviously, this is not a poor neighborhood.”

At the West Side vigil for Ortiz on Tuesday, Gauthier and DeLeon called for an end to the violence, while imploring the community to resist the urge to retaliate.

“We don’t need violence on top of violence,” Gauthier said. “We need peace on top of peace.”

DeLeon called the spate of citywide violence devastating.

“I’m going to put my faith in God so that the West Side can have a different reputation; that the East Side can have a different reputation; the city can have a different reputation,” DeLeon told the mourners.

“That instead of killers, we’ll have healers that will rise and begin to bring healing.”

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com, jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com and mgryta@buffnews.com