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Second 'gang-related' Grape Street shooting caps bloody week in Buffalo

There’s fresh blood on the door at 284 Grape St.

In front of the house, prayer candles, deflating balloons and paper lanterns memorialize a grandmother and her 17-month-old grandson who were killed in a spray of gunfire July 2. Two young men were also wounded in the attack.

Police say a double shooting Thursday night on that same porch is connected to the July 2 incident: One of the two men shot Thursday night is believed to have been the intended target July 2.

And detectives are looking closely at two other July homicides that may play a role, a police source told The Buffalo News.

Police and City Hall officials wouldn’t go so far to say that a “gang war” had erupted.

“Gang-related,” Deputy Police Commissioner Joe Gramaglia said Friday, echoing the same term Mayor Byron W. Brown used at a news conference Friday on the steps of City Hall.

"There is unfortunately a code in these neighborhoods of just go out and settle it yourself," said Darius Pridgen, president of the Common Council as well as pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street.

On Friday, a law enforcement source said at least one "person of interest" in connection with the July 2 shootings is in custody on unrelated charges.

The latest shootings on Grape Street followed a week in which at least six other people were shot in the City of Buffalo, one fatally.

For Pridgen, who presided over the funerals of two homicide victims Thursday as well as at services for Yvette Johnson, who had just turned 54, and her toddler grandson, Kyrie Johnson, the steady drumbeat of death and violence has taken its toll.

"Yesterday I kind of hit a wall," Pridgen said Friday. "These aren’t just victims. They are people. They have names. They have children. They have mothers and fathers."

Earlier Friday, Brown, joined by the police commissioner, Pridgen and members of the Stop the Violence Coalition and Buffalo Peacemakers, handed out flyers on Grape Street and the surrounding Fruit Belt neighborhood, advertising a $4,000 reward for information about the shootings.

They also invited neighbors to an emergency community meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Centennial Baptist Church on High Street.

“The community has been very cooperative,” Brown said. “A good number of helpful tips have come in. The police department has made progress.”

Significant community input played a key role in identifying the possible suspect Friday, one source said. No charges related to either Grape Street shootings had been filed against the person or persons, the sources said.

The two shootings on Grape Street have unnerved residents.

"Nothing ever happens on this street," said a 32-year-old mother who declined to give her name because she doesn't "want to get in the middle of whatever is going on." Her street hasn't been the same since the July 2 shooting. It's normally quiet and neighbors are courteous to each other. She never noticed any criminal activity at the house where the shootings took place and that the grandmother and her sons were friendly and neighborly.

Grape Street is just a few blocks down from two city jewels: City Honors School and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"I used to sit on the porch at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I couldn't sleep," the woman said. "Right now, I'm afraid to do that. ... This is shocking."

'They want street justice'

Police haven't said that the incidents they're looking at are direct retaliation for one other, but anti-violence activists say it's not uncommon for people directly involved with street violence to retaliate on their own – and leave the police out of it.

Murray Holman, executive director of Stop the Violence, which tries to mediate rivalries before they turn violent or escalate, said some young people "feel like they can do it on their own. They want to take matters into their own hands. They want street justice."

Both Holman and Pridgen urged whoever is responsible to turn themselves in.

“You need to tell the story straight from the beginning,” Holman said he would tell the shooter. “Get this off your chest or either you’re going to be dead or you’re going to jail.”

Pridgen said: “For whatever reason that you lost it, lost your temper. They are going to find you sooner or later. It’s better if you take the responsible road and turn yourself in.”

At about 12:30 a.m. July 2, Yvette Johnson, who had been celebrating her 54th birthday with her family, was fatally shot, along with her 17-month-old grandson Kyrie Johnson in front of the grandmother's home. It's located next to a large vacant lot in the Fruit Belt section of Buffalo. Devery Johnson, who is Yvette Johnson's son and Kyrie's father, was shot in the leg, as was a second man, in the same attack. Police called the quadruple shooting a "horrific, horrific crime" and implored the public to come forward with information to help them catch the killers.

Police have increased patrols in the neighborhood since the July 2 shooting, Gramaglia said, and have added even more.

"They'll be absolute dedicated patrols in and around that neighborhood," Gramaglia said late Thursday.

At about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, two men, ages 23 and 24, were shot in front of 284 Grape. Police have not released their names.

Both were taken to Erie County Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.

Before the shootings and after the back-to-back funerals at his church, Pridgen went on Facebook Live on Thursday evening, saying he was suffering from "funeral fatigue."

He wants to make sure people don't become desensitized by violence. He also wants to help the young people who are caught up in the violence.

"At the end of the day they are our sons, our nephews, our nieces. We have to talk to them, too. We can make them our enemy, or we can help them to transition from doing crimes like this to becoming responsible," Pridgen said.

Family and friends come to grips with two lives cut short in Buffalo's Fruit Belt

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