BOSTON – Police scoured Boston for clues and suspects Tuesday after four people, including a toddler, were fatally shot overnight in a brutal crime that carried tones of an execution and shook up an already troubled neighborhood.
Some of the victims were apparently dragged from a house and killed in the street, a neighborhood activist said. A neighbor reported seeing two naked bodies. A fifth victim was hospitalized and not expected to survive, police said.
A neighbor who heard the gunfire at about 1 a.m. ran to see what happened and saw two nude bodies on the ground. "People were screaming from the windows, saying 'Help, help,'" said Ralph Myrthil, 43.
Myrthil said his 6-year-old son, Jovany, was awakened by the gunfire and asked: "Dad, is it the Fourth of July?"
Two men and a woman were found in the street and pronounced dead at the scene in the Mattapan neighborhood. The toddler, a 2- or 3-year-old boy, was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said. Another man was in critical condition.
The victims were not immediately identified, and autopsies were planned. Police were releasing few details.
Law enforcement officials said that they didn't know a motive and that no suspects had been identified. They were looking for a silver or gray Ford Explorer that witnesses saw leaving the scene.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the killers are cowards who will 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.
The shootings took place on Woolson Street, lined with close-packed, three-story homes. Many of the residents are of Haitian or Caribbean descent.
Relatives and friends of the victims hugged and cried behind yellow police tape Tuesday as neighbors shook their heads.
"Why?" one woman wailed, as others attempted to console her.
The Rev. Eugene Rivers, an anti-violence activist, said the shooting had the feel of a "summary execution."
Rivers, who did not know the victims, said police told him it appeared at least some of the victims had been dragged from a home before being shot.
"This has a very bad feel to it," Rivers said. "It's not that kind of random violence," Rivers said.
He joined authorities in asking any residents who know something about the shootings to cooperate with police. He said the community needed to "step up" and help end the cycle of violence in Boston's black neighborhoods.
Like other neighborhoods in Boston and elsewhere, Mattapan has struggled with history of high crime, drug-dealing, prostitution and, of course, gangs that often make witnesses reluctant to step forward for fear of retaliation.
A recent spike of violence had already frustrated police, politicians and community leaders. The city had recorded 50 homicides 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, compared with six at the same time in 2009.
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.
After the slaying of a pizza delivery driver in early September in the Hyde Park neighborhood, the mayor said he wanted to torture the three suspects, one of whom is a teenage girl. Menino, who had met the victim's daughters, later said he regretted the remarks.
The mayor opposes the death penalty and was more restrained when he addressed Tuesday's shooting.
"We are going to get them, we are going to lock them up, we are going to throw the keys away," he said.
Myrthil, who lived in the neighborhood for seven years but did not know the victims, said he is tired of frequent shootings.
"After what I saw, I plan on moving and going somewhere else," he said. "This is devastating."
Rhonda Valbrun, 47, who lives around the corner from the shooting scene, complained that Boston police rarely patrolled the area after 11 p.m.
"People are getting tired of this," said Valbrun, who is helping organize a vigil followed by a march to a police station to demand more police presence.
Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie, Mark Pratt and Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.