After shooting two men during a Humboldt Parkway carjacking on the night of March 10, police say, William Brown and Damian Saulters were thirsting for more violence.
"They drove around until they got to the intersection of Walden Avenue and Sobieski Street, and there was a guy standing on the corner," said Buffalo Police Lt. Timothy Scioli. "From everything we can determine, they didn't even know this guy. He was just standing there.
"They pull up to the poor guy in this car they had just stolen. Saulters yells out, 'Today's your birthday!' And he shoots the guy."
The three shooting victims will recover. Brown, 17, of Buffalo, was arrested last week on multiple felony charges. He denies the allegations. An arrest warrant has been issued for Saulters, 20, who is believed to have left Western New York.
The case is one of hundreds quietly investigated over the past 10 months by a federal and local crime task force that has been concentrating on gang and gang-related violence in Buffalo.
Scioli and FBI Agent David Webster are the co-commanders of the Buffalo Violent Crime & Career Criminal Task Force.
U.S. Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer held a news conference Monday to publicly thank the task force for its efforts, to announce a $96,200 grant to support its continued work, and to lobby with city lawmakers to continue supplying city police manpower to the effort.
Made up mostly of FBI agents and Buffalo police, the 25-investigator task force began its work last May, and authorities said it has made more than 300 arrests since. Some of the roughest gangs in the city, and some of the city's most violent criminals, are among its targets.
"These are violent people, and we're doing all we can to get them off the street," Webster said. "We're investigating one guy who, we believe, shot a man to death, just for walking down his street."
Monday's news conference was the first NeMoyer has held in Buffalo since taking over as U.S. attorney here in 1993.
He said he considers the task force a vital link between federal and local law enforcement.
"Gang violence is a very legitimate concern in Buffalo, and these guys are doing some excellent work," NeMoyer said. "With the budget crunch that is coming in Buffalo, I hope the city will continue to provide manpower from the Buffalo Police. It's extremely important."
NeMoyer announced he has secured $96,200 to fund purchases of computer equipment, and paying the salaries of data clerks to input information about Buffalo felons in the task force computers.
"There are people in the task force who spend their entire day inputting information like nicknames, gang associations, what kind of weapon was used in a particular crime, and what kind of car was driven," NeMoyer said.
Aside from the FBI and Buffalo Police, the task force receives manpower support from NeMoyer's office, the Erie County district attorney's office, Erie County Sheriff's
Department, the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, Cheektowaga police and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
Several other police agencies have liaisons with the task force.
Webster said the task force's investigators spend most of their time keeping track of Buffalo's street gangs and protecting witnesses who are afraid of testifying in violent crime cases.
The case involving Brown and Saulters was described as a typical one for the task force.
"We were asked to look into it by the precinct detectives. They could not get anywhere with the case because the witnesses were afraid to cooperate," Scioli said. "We went out and talked to the witnesses, and agreed to provide them protection if they need it. They agreed to cooperate.
"Without the witnesses, you have no case."
At present, Webster and Scioli said, there are believed to be about 30 loosely-knit drug-oriented gangs operating in the Buffalo area. The gangs have anywhere from eight to 40 members. About six of those gangs have an unusual specialty.
"They make all their money by robbing, kidnapping and extorting money from drug dealers," Scioli said. "It can be very lucrative, and the victims usually don't report the crimes to the police."
The task force commanders said none of the gangs now operating in Buffalo are as strong as the "LA Boys," the infamous organization run by Donald "Sly" Green and Darryl "Reese" Johnson in the 1980s. Green and Johnson were jailed after a lengthy FBI probe.
"You have some very powerful and dangerous people here, but I don't think you have any one person barking out the orders, like a Sly Green," Webster said.
He and Scioli said the task force is especially proud of its efforts to keep the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based gang that has about 50,000 members in 27 chapters, from making inroads in Buffalo.
Police said the gang recruited teen-agers from fatherless families on the city's East Side, and then required them to shoot or stab someone as an initiation rite.
Although the gang still has members here, the arrests of five alleged gang leaders could destroy the Disciples' Buffalo operation, police said.
The Buffalo chapter's two top leaders -- identified by police as Richard Taylor and Alonzo "John-John" Mayes -- are both in the Erie County Holding Center facing murder charges.