BOSTON -- A shooting early Tuesday left a toddler and three others dead, and a fifth person was hospitalized and not expected to survive, police said. There have been no arrests, and outraged city officials asked residents for help.
Police responded to gunfire in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood just after 1 a.m. Two men and a woman found in the street were pronounced dead at the scene.
The toddler, 2 or 3, died later at the hospital, police said. Another man was reported in critical condition and authorities did not expect him to live.
Ralph Myrthil, 43, who lives near the shooting scene, said he was awake at about 1 a.m. when he heard six shots. He said the gunfire woke his 6-year-old son, Jovany, who said "Dad, is it the Fourth of July?"
Myrthil said he ran outside to see what happened and saw two naked bodies in the street. "People were screaming from the windows, saying 'Help, help,"' he said.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told a midday news conference that investigators were still trying to determine the identities of the victims and that autopsies would be performed.
There were no specific suspects, but police were searching for a silver or gray Ford Explorer that witnesses saw leaving the scene, Davis said.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said investigators had not established a motive but believed the violence was not random.
The shooting took place on Woolson Street, lined with close-packed, three-story homes. Family and friends of the victims hugged and cried behind yellow police tape Tuesday as neighbors looked on, shaking their heads.
"Why?" one woman wailed, as others attempted to console her. A minister was also at the scene.
An angry Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the killers were "cowards" who would be brought to justice.
"To those who have no respect for life and would commit these brutal acts, our streets are not your playgrounds. Our kids cannot be your collateral damage. We will not allow you to poison our city," said the mayor, who returned early from an education summit in New York City after learning of the shootings.
The shooting was the latest in a spike of violence in the city that has frustrated police, politicians and community leaders. There had been 50 homicides in the city as of Sept. 27, according to police department data, up from 40 in the same period last year. In Mattapan, there had been 14 homicides in 2010 prior to Tuesday's incident, compared to six at the same time in 2009.
Mattapan is on the southern edge of the city near the border with the affluent suburb of Milton.
Menino was so affected by the slaying of a pizza delivery driver in early September that he told a group of college students that he would torture the three suspects, one of whom is a teenage girl. Menino, who had met the victim's daughters when they had previously worked in the mayor's office, later said he regretted the remarks.
Myrthil, who did not know the victims of Tuesday's incident, said there have been frequent shootings in the neighborhood and he is tired of it after living there for seven years.
"After what I saw, I plan on moving and going somewhere else. This is devastating."
Authorities coping with a recent spike in violence asked anyone with information about the shootings to call a police tip line, anonymously if they wished.
"Silence is not a moral option in this investigation," Conley said.
Davis said detectives had already received a number of helpful tips from the public and that police patrols were being increased in the neighborhood.
A coalition of Boston pastors also called upon residents of Mattapan and the black community to cooperate with police investigators.
The Rev. Eugene Rivers, an anti-violence activist, says the community needs to "step up" and help end the cycle of violence in Boston's black neighborhoods.
The pastors also announced they would hold a service Tuesday afternoon at Morningstar Baptist Church for those affected by the violence.
The shooting was the single deadliest in Boston since December 2005, when four young men -- including three members of a rap group -- were fatally shot in a makeshift basement recording studio in the Dorchester neighborhood. Two men are serving prison sentences in connection with that shooting.