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Strange pattern found in Buffalo’s homicide spree

Eight men have been shot and killed on Buffalo’s streets in the last 17 days, and city police have found an unusual pattern in the dramatic rise in homicides.

None of the victims has been in his teens or even early 20s. Instead, all seven victims have been between 25 and 40 years old.

And nobody has a clear explanation why.

“In most cases, there is no common denominator,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Tuesday. “Some are gang-related, others are over minor incidents involving young shooters, and one or two are alcohol-involved.”

Until the recent escalation in killings began Aug. 30, the city had registered a decade-low number of homicides for the first two-thirds of the year, city officials have said. Since then, at least 13 people have been shot, eight of them fatally – the most recent, a 31-year-old Amherst man fatally shot in the 600 block of Northumberland Avenue about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, the Buffalo Common Council president, has noticed the trend, as a person who has officiated at many homicide victims’ funerals.

“At one point, I was burying a lot of teenagers, and now I’m burying a lot of adult males,” said Pridgen, senior pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church. “I have no idea why, but whatever is going on in the streets, we now have adult males who are becoming the victims.

“This is a pivotal moment … because these are the fathers, the people who should be the leaders of our community who are being gunned down,” he added.

Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards was asked how he could explain the older ages of the victims.

“When homicide victims are in their late 20s and 30s, as opposed to their teens, it’s a possibility that old scores are being settled,” Richards replied.

Pridgen agreed.

“The recent spike in homicides does seem to be more targeted,” he said. “We don’t seem to have a rash of random drive-bys.”

Even though the killing spree over the last 2½ weeks occurred during a heat wave that saw temperatures frequently approaching 90 degrees, most of the shootings aren’t the typical summer cases of young people losing their cool over petty street disputes.

Pridgen noted that when teens are involved, you often can assume that it’s an “immature kid” who shouldn’t have gotten hold of a gun.

“When you see the victims and shooters are adult males who should know better, it’s a cause of great concern in the community,” Pridgen added. “These are not immature, hot-headed youths running around. These are grown men.”

The ages of the victims also change the discussion about what can be done to stem the recent spike in killings.

In the past, Pridgen, as both a pastor and an elected official, has heard the public complain about the lack of organized recreational activities that could keep some at-risk youths off the streets. But if this trend continues, with victims and presumably many of the shooters ranging in age from 25 to 40, “I think we have to view this with a different set of eyes now.”

City officials say there have been 28 homicides so far this year, compared to 38 at the same time last year.

And they point out that homicide detectives already have cleared three of the six different homicide cases since Aug. 30 – two men were shot together on Michigan Avenue on Sept. 5 – and some of those killings just recently occurred.

Pridgen sees hope in one facet of the troubling homicide spike, that the community seems more willing to cooperate with police to find the killers.

“We’re no longer going to tolerate people committing homicides and [our] being silent,” he said. “I do know that social media has spread the word about homicides and infuriated people to the point where they are encouraging other people to say something.”

Derenda, the police commissioner, agreed, saying that his detectives are getting more cooperation on the homicides, at least those that arise from minor disputes.

Pridgen warned that these killings are the result of multiple problems in our community.

“If we continue to concentrate on the homicides, but not the root causes, we will continue to have prayer vigils after murders,” he said. “In my opinion, we must shift the focus from the result – which is the homicides – to the beginning of the process, which is the education of our children.”

There clearly is a correlation, he added, between educated youths who later gravitate toward higher education and undereducated youths who move into the criminal-justice system.

But a quick sound bite from anyone in the community can’t fully explain what’s happening.

As Pridgen said, “There is no simple answer for a complex situation.”