Adrian L. Huggins Jr. Shaquille Woods. Vernon Hardy. Fred Rozier. Amir Chambers. Andre Anderson. Edward Battles.
The seven were victims of Buffalo’s street gangs or the illegal drug trade over the last several years.
Their unsolved murders have now been solved with the arrests of nine men since late February, according to police and federal authorities who gathered Thursday at Buffalo Police Headquarters to discuss the dismantling of two more gangs under new federal indictments.
The oldest victim was 31, the youngest 17.
For some victims, it was a case of street justice, with one gang settling a score against another. At least one was a victim of mistaken identity, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The recent federal indictments, which address four of the seven homicides, carry a total of 54 charges against the Bailey Boys in the Bailey-Kensington neighborhood and their rivals, the LRGP Crew from Broadway-Fillmore. The two gangs have terrorized residents for years, and the federal racketeering charges are likely to put the gangs permanently out of business.
That’s good news for residents, according to Christopher M. Piehota, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo Office, and U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.
Some neighborhood leaders agreed. “It makes it a safe place for our children to live and for us as people in the community. You have a safe environment, and you’ll bring more people to the community and more businesses,” said Leona Harper, president of the Comstock Block Club in Bailey-Kensington.
Neighbors, she said, have seen a difference. “Every time there is a shooting, a break-in, robbery, you see a bigger police response,” she said. “More surveillance cameras are going up, and the fact that they are there makes you feel more secure.”
In Broadway-Fillmore, where LRGP operated in streets bounded by Loepere, Rother, Gibson and Playter, there was a similar reaction.
“It has been a lot quieter, although I don’t know if it’s due to the cold weather or the crackdown. We don’t have as many 25-somethings hanging around causing problems,” said Marlies A. Wesolowski, executive director of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center at Broadway and Playter.
She also cited the increased number of police surveillance cameras. “We now have one at our corner, and that has been a big help, so much so that I wrote to the police commissioner thanking him,” she said. “I guess we will have to wait and see what happens come the warm weather to see whether or not there has been a short-term or a long-term effect from all the efforts.”
For that, Hochul offered a suggestion.
“This is the start of spring, and more people will be out on the streets. Please, if you see something, say something to help us get the worst of the worst. It’s a wonderful time to lend your assistance,” he said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda repeatedly thanked federal, state and county police agencies for assisting city police to, as the mayor put it, “work in seamless collaboration” to remove thugs from the city’s streets.
The effort, which began in earnest in 2010 when Derenda took Hochul and other federal authorities on a tour of city trouble spots, has made Buffalo uninviting to larger, national gangs, Brown said. “We have made it difficult for them to set up shop,” he said.
Derenda, in appealing to the public for help through the department’s confidential tip line, 847-2255, said a shooting last May in Martin Luther King Park that killed one person and wounded four others is also close to being solved because of joint efforts in keeping up the pressure on street gangs.
All of this, Piehota said, builds a foundation for the rejuvenation of neighborhoods.
“It all comes down to the health and safety of the neighborhoods. When we take these gangs off the streets, people can sit on their porches, kids can go out to play and businesses can prosper,” he said.
Seven unsolved city homicides dating back to 2009 have been solved in recent weeks:
1. Adrian L. Huggins Jr., 25, died Jan. 18, 2012; shot 10 days earlier at Wohlers Avenue and Dodge Street; Laquan Morgan was arrested Feb. 25.
2. Shaquille Woods, 19, died May 19, 2012; shot at Massachusetts Avenue and Shields Street; Demario Smith was arrested Feb. 28.
3. Vernon Hardy, 24, died May 22, 2012, after being shot on 18th Street; Rayshawn Bethany arrested March 7.
4. Fred Rozier, 20, died Feb. 9, 2012, after being shot on Deerfield Avenue; Rayshod Washington and Raymell Weeden were indicted by federal grand jury.
5. Amir Chambers, 26, died April 21, 2011, after being shot on Mills Street; federal indictment filed against Fred Keys and John Evans.
6. Andre Anderson, 31, died Aug. 3, 2009, after being shot at Peckham and Lombard streets; federal indictment filed against Anthony Skinner.
7. Edward Battles, 17, died Oct. 9, 2009, after being shot on Minnesota Avenue; Montel Bonner, who was fatally shot July 9, 2011, was identified as Battles’ suspected killer.