Twelve shot at cookout in drug feud

July 27, 2009 3:00:32 PM PDT
A gunman burst into a backyard cookout held in the memory of two men who'd been shot to death a year earlier, wounding 12 people in a shooting police say was sparked by a gang feud, Baltimore police said Monday. In all, 16 people were shot in a period of about three hours on Sunday night and early Monday morning, police said. A pregnant 23-year-old and a 2-year-old girl were wounded at the cookout, but they were expected to recover.

Two men were killed in one of the later shootings, but it was apparently unrelated to the cookout attack.

The number of people shot in such a short period was unprecedented in the city's history, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said.

"It stacks up pretty high," Bealefeld said. "To have 12 people shot in one incident and (others) scattered around east Baltimore, it's just absolutely ridiculous."

The cookout shooting and a drive-by shooting three hours later were both related to a long-running feud between rival drug gangs, Bealefeld said.

The apparent target of the cookout shooting, Steven Blackwell Jr., 25, was shot in the arm, police said.

Blackwell had been under police surveillance for some time, Bealefeld said. Blackwell's two younger brothers were abducted last April as part of a drug feud, and police believe that incident led to a series of retaliatory shootings.

Blackwell was charged with attempted murder in separate incidents 2000 and 2001, according to online court records. The initial charges were remanded to juvenile court, where records are sealed. The later charges were dropped.

An attorney for Blackwell could not immediately be reached for comment.

The cookout shooting happened around 9 p.m., when a gunman walked into the backyard of a rowhouse on Ashland Avenue and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon before fleeing on foot, police said.

None of the dozen victims suffered life-threatening injuries. They were hit in the legs, arms, shoulders and backs. The 2-year-old girl was shot in the arm, and the pregnant woman took a bullet in the thigh, police said.

Although police were watching Blackwell, they were unaware that the cookout was taking place, Bealefeld said. It was held in memory of two men who were fatally shot on July 25, 2008.

Police did not identify any additional victims.

"These are two organizations that tried to eliminate each other based on this drug feud," Bealefeld said. "They have no regard for who stands in the middle of that."

The drive-by shooting occurred early Monday morning, about a mile away. A man was shot in the head and buttocks while sitting in the back seat of a white Lexus, and a female driver, who was uninjured, drove the bullet-riddled car to the emergency room at nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital, police said.

The victim was conscious and talking before being taken into surgery, police said.

The fatal shootings of two 19-year-old men Sunday night less than a mile from the cookout were apparently unrelated to the other two attacks, police said. The victims in that shooting were identified as Gary Martin and Darien Jones. Online court records did not indicate that the men had adult criminal histories.

Also Sunday night, a pizza delivery man was shot in the knee about three miles north of the cookout.

Police had made no arrests in any of the shootings Monday afternoon. The department will be adding about three dozen foot patrol officers and devoting other resources to the neighborhoods where the violence occurred, Bealefeld said.

Baltimore has been plagued by drug violence for decades, and while homicides hit a 20-year low last year, it remains one of the nation's most violent big cities.

Through Monday, there had been 130 slayings in the city in 2009, up from 122 on the same date last year. Nonfatal shootings, however, are down almost 30 percent over the same period despite Sunday night's violence, police said.

Bealefeld's strategy is to target "bad guys with guns" -- the relatively small number of armed, repeat offenders who are responsible for the majority of the city's violent crime.

Police need more cooperation from the community for that strategy to bear fruit, officials said.

"People have to begin to make choices about what they are going to accept and not accept in their homes and in their communities," Mayor Sheila Dixon said. "And I don't want to hear all the excuses."

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