MANCHESTER — A Laurel Street baseball bat brawl last March between two rival gangs is at the root of three recent shootings in the city, including one Thursday night in which a 17-year-old was shot in the leg, according to Manchester police Chief David Mara.
The teen turned up in the Elliot Hospital emergency room about 1:30 a.m. Friday suffering from a gunshot wound to the lower leg. Lt. Maureen Tessier said the teen, whose injury is not life-threatening, is not cooperating with investigators.
The violence has escalated between the two groups that, according to court documents, named themselves the OTL - Orange to Laurel streets - and the “180” since a riot on the afternoon of March 2 outside 141 Laurel St.
Former state representative Hector Velez Sr., 47, of 269 Central St., allegedly brought his son Hector Velez Jr., 18, to Laurel Street that day to “settle a dispute” with David Weekly, 17.
Velez Jr. is reportedly a member of the “180” gang, while Weekly is a member of OTL — the Orange to Laurel streets gang. Both Velez Sr. and Velez Jr. were arrested in connection with the melee that drew a crowd of about 30 people and required 18 officers and 30 minutes to quell.
Baseball bats and sticks were the choice of weapons in that melee that ended up with two teenage boys needing hospital treatment for injuries.
Police have not said what is at the heart of the dispute but in the ensuing months, violence has escalated into shootings between the rival gangs.
Assistant police Chief Nick Willard said investigators tracked three of nine founded shooting incidents over the past month to the two gangs: June 11 at 461 Maple St., when Edwin Soto, 23, was shot in the back; June 16 at 382 Cedar St. when OTL member Adrien Stillwell, 19, of Dorchester, Mass., allegedly fired a gun at a 17-year-old 180 member in an incident at 382 Cedar St.; and Thursday night’s shooting of the teen at Lincoln and Spruce streets.
Mara said police are taking steps to curb the violence, and Willard said police have made five arrests in nine shooting incidents in the city since May 20. Investigators, they said, hope to solve the remaining incidents and arrest those responsible for them.
“We have what we feel is a plan in place to combat the violence,” Mara said.
That includes two special, two-man patrol cars to deal with issues in the affected neighborhoods, and added patrols Thursday through Friday in the area of downtown nightclubs.
Two years ago, federal funding for gang patrol cars ended, but Mara said the department has tried to continue them on its own and is attempting to get New Hampshire State Police to join them in the enforcement.
Willard said it is difficult to make arrests in gang crimes where witnesses and victims provide limited cooperation. Still, of the nine shooting incidents in the city over the past month, he said police have made five arrests that he termed “remarkable.”
Thursday night police also arrested Velez Jr. again, this time for allegedly threatening a relative of Stillwell’s. A police prosecutor told a judge that, in the past year, there have been 26 documented incidents between the two gangs.
Mayor Ted Gatsas said the police department has beefed up its foot patrols in the downtown area and there are more patrols in cruisers and by bicycle for an increase visibility in the neighborhoods.
“They’re working on different staffing procedures,” he said, noting that 14 more police officers will be sworn in on July 7. “Certainly, it’s important that we do everything we can to curtail it.”
The mayor said, however, he does not know how anyone can prevent the shooting of a man during a dispute in a downtown restaurant and the wounding of someone during a home invasion, without a police officer being right there at the time it happens.
Friday morning, a strip of yellow police tape blew in a breeze off a chain link fence surrounding an apartment building at 294 Spruce St., across the street from Mr. Market, where the latest shooting took place.
A woman, who would not give her name but said she lives in the neighborhood, said she heard two gunshots Thursday night. There was no blood and no ambulance came, she said.
“We need stricter laws on guns. There’s too much “Live Free or Die,” said the woman while holding her baby son.
Another man, a father of three who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, said he heard two gunshots and saw a man standing outside Mr. Market with a gun. He, too, said there was no blood and no ambulance called.
He also would not give his name, but said he never had any problem in the time he’s lived in the neighborhood.
“I grew up in Lowell, Mass.,” he said. “So this is a paradise compared to where I grew up.”