Three dead in Centre St. melee

December 3, 2010
By

David Taber


Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira
Local business owner Ed Jacobs of Interstate Rental Service on Amory Street eats breakfast at Same Old Place Monday morning after a stabbing and shooting there Nov. 21 left three dead and a person passing by on the street wounded. A bullet hole in the mirror offers a sobering reminder of what happened the night before. Owner Fred Ciampa credits his loyal staff for enabling him to re-open the restaurant the next day.

Community responds

JP CENTER—A dinner-time fight in a busy Centre Street restaurant—allegedly part of an ongoing feud between rival local gangs—led to the fatal stabbing and shooting of the three participants, and a gunshot wound for a woman who happened to be passing by Nov. 21.

Police identified the three alleged participants in the fight at the Same Old Place restaurant at 662 Centre St. as Winzisky Soto, 27; Johnel Cruz, 20; and Ariel Dume, 20. The female victim, whose knee was reportedly grazed by a bullet as she crossed Centre Street, was not identified by police.

Soto and Cruz lived in JP, and all three participants in the fight were of Dominican descent, according to police. At a Nov. 30 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) devoted to the shooting, Boston Police Captain John Greland, head of Jamaica Plain’s E-13 district, said the participants were “kids from Dominican families who come from the same town in the Dominican Republic.”

In a brief interview with the Gazette following the meeting, Greland said police believe that the fight was not related to illegal drug trade.

In a telephone interview with the Gazette last week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said the incident was an episode in an ongoing feud between two groups—one based on Mozart Street and one based on Boylston Street in JP.

He said the October slaying of Luis “Tito” Torres on Boylston Street and two non-fatal shootings in Egleston Square in August were also related to the rivalry, but that police resources are being devoted to breaking up the gangs. [See related article.]

Police, the Boston Public Health Commission and community groups also launched trauma response outreach efforts in the days following the shooting, focused on Same Old Place employees, other witnesses and friends and family of the participants, Courtney Grey of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) said at the JPNC meeting.

The fact that the fatal fight took place in a crowded public venue has made those trauma response efforts more complicated, Grey said at the meeting. “It is harder to track 40 people. We are getting phone calls from people saying, ‘I was three seats away. I ducked. I hid. I have not been able to get my life back together,’” Grey said at the meeting, asking meeting attendees to refer people who need support to BPH. People interested in seeking those services can call 534-2662, public health officials told the Gazette.

At the JPNC meeting and in interviews, others, including state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez and JP resident and Boston City Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo, said the incident—which involved people from parts of the neighborhood that many perceive as more violent, but took place at a location that is largely perceived as safer—points to a major divide in the community.

Greland was among those who noted that divide at the meeting. “When I got the phone call…and [the commanding officer on the scene] told me the address, I had to ask him if he was making a mistake,” Greland said at the meeting.

Recounting the scene of the Sunday night fight, based on descriptions from employees on duty at the time, Same Old Place proprietor Fred Ciampa told the Gazette that two of the victims were eating dinner when a third walked into the pizza shop, drew his hood up, grabbed one of the diners, pushed him into a room at the back of the restaurant and stabbed him.

Shots were fired shortly after that, and others in the restaurant sought cover, he said.

A Boston Police cruiser was coming down the street and saw one of the participants collapse as he left Same Old Place, police told the Gazette..

Same Old Place was open for business and bustling the next morning. Asked by the Gazette about his decision to open, Ciampa said, “What am I supposed to do? Am I a coward now?” Later in the week, Ciampa told the Gazette that he had been planning to close for the week in the wake of the violence, and offered his employees paid time off, but “every single one came to work….I am blessed. None of my help got hurt. None of my customers got hurt. I can fix the rest,” he said.

The community sprang to Same Old Place’s support in the wake of the shooting. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, community members; elected officials; and public health officials involved with the city’s trauma response efforts to support people indirectly affected by violence could be found staked out in booths at the restaurant.

“I came here this morning to see how Fred was doing and I have been here ever since,” state Rep. Liz Malia, whose district includes about half of JP, told the Gazette in an interview at Same Old Place Monday morning.

“The big issue I am worried about is that we keep maintaining good businesses up here,” she said.

Longtime community activist Marie Turley, who was sitting with Malia, echoed that sentiment, Everyone on the street needs to keep coming in, not just today, but a week from now,” she said.

On Wednesday, the local community networking organization Neighbors For Neighbors hosted a widely publicized “lunch-in” event at Same Old Place that attracted over 1,500 community members. Two Centre Street churches—The First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist in Monument Square, and the First Baptist Church, near Same Old Place at 633 Centre St—both opened their doors for community members in the wake of the incident, hosting vigils on Nov. 23 and 24.

Even as the community rallied, state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Gazette that he feels that new steps need to be taken to combat a “culture of violence” that exists in some parts of JP. “This incident just highlights problems in our community that we have to figure out. It is not just a police problem. They can only do so much. We have to figure out how to get through to these young people in a way that they feel that we are making a difference for them. They are a section of the population that we are missing in our community,” he said.

At the JPNC meeting, he said he and recently-inaugurated local City Councilor Matt O’Malley met with the parents of the participants this week, and that they had told the elected officials heartbreaking stories about trying to help their children. “We heard from a father who said that he tries to talk to his son about his day, and his son does not want to talk to him.” A mother told them of struggling to make sure her 14-year-old son goes to school, Sánchez said.

“These are strong families, but there is something else out there,” he said. “We have some of the strongest social service programs in the city, programs that are recognized locally and nationally…Nobody knows what’s out there.”

City Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer, a JP resident, said reaching out to parents in immigrant communities is one of the BPHC’s main tactics in dealing with youth violence. “It is already hard to parent, and you’ve got new cultural norms that kids are adopting faster than their parents. You’ve got chaos,” she said at the meeting.

Last week, when asked by the Gazette about whether the prospect of a community meeting on the incident, Sánchez expressed frustration with what he described as a generic crisis response.

“This [calls for] more than just a community meeting,” he said. “We have to try to figure out a way to get into peoples’ living rooms” and reach people who are not already engaged with the community. “This is beyond having a meeting so we can throw these big ideas into the street.”

Public officials, police and professional social service providers appeared to outnumber residents in the crowd of about 60 people at the hastily organized JPNC meeting, and one community member said she was disappointed that there had not been more outreach to JP’s Dominican community.

JPNC chair Andrea Howley said that the Nov. 30 meeting was organized in a hurry and that the volunteer elected body would continue to work on the issue and do more outreach in the future.

Arroyo, a long-time youth baseball coach, told the Gazette in an interview that he has seen cultural rules specific to minority youth bump up against community-building efforts in the course of that volunteer service.

His team does not play games at Marcella Park—a park in Roxbury near Jackson Square—because some players are not allowed to go there because of the threat of violence over “turf” issues.

Arroyo told the Gazette that he has run into similar issues when suggesting pizza places to his teams for post-game meals. “They will say, ‘Oh, I’ve got something to do,” he said.

The city councilor told the Gazette he was surprised to hear about the shooting at Same Old Place because youths on his baseball team had always been willing to go there, leading him to understand that the Centre Street pizza parlor is neutral territory.

Commenting on the community organizing that has gone on in the Centre Street district, Arroyo said it is good that there are “people who can organize via a social network very quickly,” but that it is “sad” that parts of JP that see more crime to not utilize the same infrastructure.

“Frankly, we should be shocked when this happens on Boylston,” Arroyo said. A youth vigil was held in the immediate aftermath of the October slaying of Torres on Boylston Street, but that crime did not generate anything like the widespread public outcry in response to the recent incident.

Arroyo pointed to socio-economic factors, including a lack of jobs for young people in a down economy, as key factors in a recent apparent upswing in violence. But he also said that he hopes adults in JP will “really think about what we are doing to support youth, and take time in life to a youth sports coach, or a tutor or a mentor.”

In the meantime, long-time JP resident Yasmin Pereyra, who, was born and raised in JP and recently moved to Hyde Park, said she is working “together with past and present residents and merchants” to organize a Peace Walk in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury in response to the incident.

Pereyra, who attended the Nov. 23 vigil at the Unitarian Church, told the Gazette she hopes the walk, scheduled for Dec. 12, will be the first step in forming a “Dominican coalition” in Boston to talk about what the community’s issues are. “We want to get at the root of what is happening,” she said. In an e-mail to the Gazette she said those root-problems include “low wages…escalating health and education disparities” and a lack of understanding about cultural differences between the “dominant culture” and cultures in immigrant communities.

Pereyra said a “community Mass” in response to the tragedy will be held at Our Lady of Lourdes Church at 45 Brookside Ave. on Sun. Dec. 12 at noon, and that the peace march will take place the same day at 1:30 p.m., starting from the church.

Rebeca Oliveira and Sandra Storey contributed to this article.

Clarification: This article has been changes to reflect that the Community Mass and Peace Walk planned in response to the Nov. 21 slayings have been rescheduled.