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A man acting as a “referee” in a fight Tuesday between two girls is accused of gunning down a 14-year-old boy and wounding three other youths after getting into a fight himself with someone in the large crowd watching the incident.

Joseph P. Gant, police said, was keeping others from interfering in the girls’ fight when another individual challenged his authority. Gant punched that person in the face, and the two began their own fight and fell to the ground, police said.

Gant, 28, then pulled out a handgun and started shooting randomly as a crowd of about 40 scattered at the Kenfield-Langfield public housing complex on Buffalo’s East Side, authorities said.

Killed in the shooting was 14-year-old Raymond Floyd Patterson III, who had firsthand knowledge of how fast a fight could turn deadly.

Earlier this summer, Raymond had watched as his mother fatally stabbed her boyfriend during a fight inside a house in the city’s Broadway-Fillmore section, according to police. The victim, Vernon Reeves, 34, died July 6 in Erie County Medical Center hours after being stabbed.

The boy, who also goes by Floyd, was to have been his mother’s witness that she was acting in self-defense, a police source said. “The mother and her boyfriend were arguing. He was hitting her, and she stabbed him in self-defense,” the source said.

What will become of that case, now that the witness is dead, has not yet been determined.

Raymond was shot on a footbridge linking the housing complex to Roosevelt Park as he tried to flee.

Three others were wounded, including 16-year-old Austin Neal, who heard someone scream, “He’s going to shoot,” and also ran for safety across the footbridge over the Kensington Expressway, near Oakmont Avenue, on Tuesday afternoon. All four victims were bystanders, police said.

Austin, who was getting around on crutches Thursday, says he is grateful to be alive and relieved that Gant has been arrested.

“My instinct was to run. I was in the middle of the bridge when I was shot. I didn’t notice I was shot, then I started feeling stinging in my right foot,” said Austin, a varsity football player at South Park High School.

As for Gant, a truck driver and father with children living out of state, his mother told The Buffalo News that she is having difficulty coming to terms with the allegations against him.

“This is all new to us,” she said, explaining that the charges do not match the son she knows, describing him as a good person who cares about children.

Gant, of Marigold Avenue, was arraigned Thursday in Buffalo City Court, pleading not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and three counts of first-degree assault.

Raymond’s mother was in the courtroom, but said nothing. A relative with her shouted, “No,” when Gant denied the charges.

“He’s a good man. He works as a cross-country truck driver and has children living in Kentucky,” the fiancé of Gant’s mother said outside her East Side home several hours after Gant had been arrested at 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

Police and public records show Gant was charged in 2007 with criminal possession of a weapon and at another time convicted of disorderly conduct.

Gant’s arrest, according to Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, was the culmination of a nonstop, 36-hour investigation by the Homicide Bureau, with Detective Salvatore A. Valvo receiving special recognition, along with members of the community for playing a major role in helping find the suspect. “The cooperation we received was from people coming forward with information and the mayor’s walk with the Peacemakers on Wednesday for three hours in the housing complex,” Derenda said. “That walk was directly responsible for the information that came in later and led to Gant’s apprehension.”

Brown said, “The community has said loud and clear that it won’t tolerate this kind of violence. The community was hurt, the community was angry, and the people responded.”

Residents at Kenfield-Langfield say the shooting was despicable.

“He should have been breaking up the fight or fired his gun in the air, but he shouldn’t have been shooting at all,” said resident Shante Spivey. Like others, she remained upset over the details of how the fight escalated into gunfire and death.

Police said Gant had accompanied the parents of a teenage girl who had been fighting at the nearby Roosevelt Park basketball court. She initially had attacked an 11-year-old boy on the court because of an incident involving the boy and a member of her family.

Another girl came to the defense of the boy. The girl who started the fight then somehow contacted her parents, and when they arrived, the fight started up again on the other side of the bridge in a parking lot, behind the apartments and adjacent to the expressway.

Witnesses told police that Gant arrived with the parents of the girl, who were egging on the two teenagers to fight without interference from others. Gant kept others from getting involved, police said, before he and another person began scuffling and the shooting began.

Austin, one of the wounded teens, says he was terrified when he heard that someone in the crowd was about to start shooting.

“We heard everybody screaming, then the shooting. As I was running across the bridge, I could feel someone pulling on the back of my shirt. I don’t know who it was. My cousin was grazed by a bullet on the ankle, and Ray was shot at the beginning of the bridge,” Austin said.

Also wounded in the shooting were Raymond’s 13-year-old brother, Dae’ Mone Patterson, and 13-year-old Ned Rainey Jr.

“We had been playing basketball when we heard all this noise, so a whole bunch of us went over to see what was happening,” Austin said.

He said he saw the girls from the basketball court fighting, but when people started hollering about the gun, he and others ran.

“I never saw who was shooting, but he was shooting all over the place,” Austin said.

When asked if the parents of the teenage girl could face criminal charges or a referral to Erie County Child Protective Services for encouraging the fight, police said that it is possible.

“Austin is a good kid. He and the other three were all here Tuesday for breakfast and lunch,” said the Rev. Al Wilson, director of the Martha P. Mitchell Community Center at Kenfield-Langfield. “The children and parents in this community are frightened.”

But, he says, they are also grateful that an arrest was made so quickly.

“It’s a relief, but we can’t stop there,” he said in urging parents to keep close watch over their children and guide them in lawful ways.

“If this doesn’t happen,” Wilson said, “the hearse will keep on rolling and our children’s blood will continue to run into our city’s drains.”

email: lmichel@buffnews.com and scampbell@buffnews.com