Three separate homicides, all involving multiple gunshots, ushered in the first weekend of summer on Buffalo’s East Side, a grim reminder that warmer weather can spur violence.
At 10:45 p.m. Sunday, a woman and her two young children fled their house on the first block of Sumner Place, the mother yelling that a shooter had invaded their home and shot a loved one still inside.
“The woman ran out of the house with her kids, and she was screaming, ‘Someone shot my husband.’ She then collapsed in the middle of the street, but got herself back up,” said Patty Jarmusz, who witnessed the scene from her second-floor porch.
Benjamin M. Sweetwine, 31, whom police described as the woman’s boyfriend, had been living in the house with their children for about a year. Sweetwine’s killer, police believe, had secretly entered the house and waited for the family to return Sunday night.
At 4 a.m. Sunday on Pershing Avenue, a gunman opened fire, killing Victor “Fat Boy” Hernandez, 30, and wounding two women. The three had gathered with other friends around a campfire in a small yard in front of the rear house at 32 Pershing, which runs between Best and High streets. Hernandez and his family moved there three months ago from the West Side.
“When we heard those shots, it woke me up and it scared us to death,” said Betty Jackson, a next-door neighbor standing on her front porch with her two daughters Monday afternoon.
The other shooting victims, Stacey Homes, 40, and Natasha Coleman, 28, both of Buffalo, remained in fair condition in Erie County Medical Center.
Candles burned beside the gray ash of the extinguished campfire. Dried, bloody hand prints could be seen on front of the Hernandez home, as if someone had tried to get inside away from the shooter.
Candles were placed on the sidewalk out front as a second memorial. And someone spray painted a message of remembrance in bright blue letters: “RIP FAT BOY, AKA VIC.”
Yet another makeshift memorial, on the 100 block of St. Joseph Street, honored the memory of Deshawn White, the first of the weekend’s victims. He was killed at about 11 p.m. Friday. The memorial was placed in a driveway where his life ended, several houses in from Walden Avenue.
A photograph of White, 38, was the centerpiece of the memorial adorned with three bouquets of flowers, an oversized stuffed dog, a smaller teddy bear and white and blue candles. Spilled blood also marked the scene.
No arrests have been made in any of the shootings. Police have not said if homicide detectives determined motives in the slayings. Detectives appealed to the public for help.
“In this recent spate of violent acts that have been committed, we’re once again asking for the public to please come forward with information to help solve these cases,” Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards said late Monday.
Anyone with information, Richards said, can call or text the Buffalo Police Department’s Confidential TIPCALL Line at (716) 847-2255.
Sunday marked the second time in five weeks Sweetwine was involved in a violent incident.
He suffered a gunshot wound to the right shoulder at Fay Street and Scheu Park, a few blocks from his residence, at 12:25 p.m. May 19 when a man asked him for a ride. After shooting Sweetwine, the attacker fled in Sweetwine’s rented 2014 Camry.
At the house where Sweetwine was fatally shot late Sunday, there were no signs of forced entry by the gunman, according to police. The shooter, they said, had secretly entered 24 Sumner when the family was away and waited for them to return.
Neighbors described Sweetwine as a quiet individual.
“I awoke to about five gunshots and screamed to my husband, ‘Ralph, call 911,’ ” Jarmusz said.
From her second-floor porch, she had watched as Sweetwine’s girlfriend and their children ran from the house.
“When the police came, they put her in a patrol car. She was hysterical. A neighbor took her children in,” she said.
Jarmusz, a 20-year resident of Sumner, and John Cavanaugh, who has owned rental houses on the block for 25 years, said their end of Sumner is usually peaceful.
There was no memorial, but torn yellow crime scene tape on Sumner reminded neighbors that a life had been taken inside the two-story, red brick and yellow vinyl-sided residence.
On Pershing Avenue, neighbors said Hernandez, a female companion and three of his four children moved into the rear residence a few months ago.
“There were more than five shots fired,” said Nicole Jackson, one of Betty Jackson’s two daughters.
The other daughter, a 12-year-old namesake for her mother, said, “Victor was so cool. When I first met him, he said, ‘Anybody messes with you, you let me know.’ When my mom told me he was killed, it brought me straight to tears.”
Others had fond memories of White on St. Joseph Street, where acquaintances recalled how they had grown up with him and that he never caused trouble.
“I was childhood friends with Deshawn,” Kiki Hames said.
Sharema, her sister, looked at the memorial on Monday afternoon and said that it was her first time back on the block since the shooting.
“My mother lives here on St. Joseph, and I couldn’t come here to my mom’s until today when I had to. I was avoiding it because I feel so sad,” she said.
White had been raised for at least part of his childhood about a half-mile away on Krupp Avenue in the city’s Broadway-Bailey section, according to a resident in that neighborhood.
Vanessa Currie recalled another tragedy in the White family not too long ago.
“Deshawn’s brother was a passenger in a car driven by a drunken driver up on Memorial Drive and the brother was killed in that crash,” Currie said.
“He was a great kid,” she said of Deshawn. “I was good friends with his mother, who’s gone now.”
Other shootings were reported over the weekend, as well.
Erique Giles, 25, suffered gunshot wounds to his chest and foot just before midnight Sunday on Wohlers Avenue, near Woodlawn Avenue. He said two men shot him. Giles’ wounds were not life threatening, Ferry-Fillmore District police said.
About 70 minutes earlier, at 10:50 p.m., Shawn M. Bentler, 25, told Ferry-Fillmore police that he was at New Babcock and William streets when a man approached him and demanded that he empty his pockets. Bentler said he heard a loud bang and realized he had been shot in the right foot. He was driven to a hospital and treated, authorities said.
At 8:21 p.m. Sunday in the 1200 block of Broadway, Felicia Jones, 35, Amoya Pellam, 16, and a third individual told Ferry-Fillmore officers they were sitting in their parked car outside a baby shower when someone fired two shots into their vehicle. No injuries were reported.