The young man walked into Martin Luther King Park with an Uzi-like machine gun and mowed down five picnickers at Shelter No. 4 on a warm May evening last year.
When he fled, he left behind one man who was fatally wounded and four other victims, including a man left a paraplegic and a woman blinded in one eye. He also inflamed the community.
Nearly a year later, local and federal law enforcement officials returned Tuesday to Martin Luther King Park to announce they had found and charged the man they believe was the shooter: Tariq “Reek” Brown, 20, a member of the Bailey Boys gang who thought he was shooting at a gathering that included rival gang members.
It has never been determined if gang members were present at that picnic shelter – there were more than 100 people at the picnic. But police say innocent family members and children were there when Brown began shooting.
To make matters worse, the weapon malfunctioned and kept firing as long as Brown had his finger on the trigger, authorities said.
“It was a cowardly, terroristic act. He fired on family members and children,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.
“We will not allow somebody to turn a play zone into a war zone,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.
Mayor Byron W. Brown, who had visited the surviving victims while they were in the hospital, said the federal criminal charges offer consolation.
“I know those families are still suffering today, but this gives them some closure,” the mayor said, adding that the community is now safer. “A cold-blooded killer is off the streets of our city. He can no longer hurt anyone else.”
The charges against Brown under the federal racketeering statute could place him behind bars for life, with the possibility of the death sentence.
In addition to the allegation that he killed Marquay Lee, 26, who died a few day after the May 12 shooting, Brown faces seven other counts of attempted murder, four of them for the wounded picnickers:
Edmond Carter, 28, now confined to a wheelchair; Shaneta Payne, 27, blinded in one eye; Aron Rose, 20; and Jahond Taylor, 23. Both Rose and Taylor were shot in the ankle.
The three other counts of attempted murder date back to shootings in 2011, when Buffalo police teamed up with the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force in an investigation of gang violence that eventually resulted in numerous arrests of Bailey Boys members.
Tariq Brown has been in custody since Aug. 1, 2012, when he and seven other Bailey Boys members were charged in a federal indictment with shooting rival gang members, selling drugs and committing robberies to make money for their criminal enterprise under the federal racketeering law. Since then, the indictment has been revised four times with additional charges, including Tuesday’s latest counts against Brown.
Richard M. Frankel, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office, said the investigation into the Bailey Boys is continuing. “We’re not done,” he said. “There could be more charges.”
The shooter’s gun was recovered as evidence, police said.
“It was a cheap weapon, and it malfunctioned, turning it into an automatic assault weapon,” a police official said.
Jeremy D. Schwartz, Brown’s defense lawyer, said, “We’ve been aware of the investigation, and we’re going to challenge the charges.”
Hochul said it was important for authorities to gather at the park to make the announcement so that residents would see not only that police officers and investigators are out in the community but also that the people who lead the investigations and prosecute the cases are in the community and not off in an “ivory tower.”
With Hochul was assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce, lead prosecutor in the case, and leaders of different police agencies that assisted, including Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard; Dale M. Kasprzyk, supervisory agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Buffalo office; and Frank Christiano, resident agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
There was an even bigger gathering in the park in the days after the shooting. Dozens of people went to the same picnic shelter where the attack occurred and held a “Peace in the Park” event to make a stand against the violence. Tears were shed amid cries for justice as city leaders offered a message that the park belonged to the good citizens of the neighborhood and not the thugs.
All of that proved true on Tuesday.
During the news conference, people were in the park enjoying the April sunshine as children romped on new playground equipment. Some said they were thankful that the alleged killer had been charged.
“I feel 100 percent better. They got him, and now he’ll do his time” said Frances Turner, who had taken her granddaughter to the park.