Brooklyn Park citizens, told in recent months that their city is experiencing a 20-year low in crime, are suddenly struggling with the shock of four killings within 41 hours.
On Wednesday night, about 100 residents came to a neighborhood park, where police and city officials fielded questions and tried to provide reassurances.
A woman was killed in a domestic assault late Tuesday, just one day after a day-care provider and her elderly parents were found shot to death in their home. Authorities said the cases are not related.
Police made an arrest in the Tuesday death of Ashantai Nicole Finch, 31, and told residents Wednesday that the day-care deaths were not a random attack.
"All the facts in this case lead us to believe this is not a random act," said Inspector Mark Bruley, north precinct commander for Brooklyn Park police, told the community meeting in College Park. "If it was, this conversation would be much different."
Still, even residents who said they feel safe called the attacks a shock.
"A lot of people are complacent," said Dee Korvela-Sutphen, who has lived in Brooklyn Park for 32 years and is a crime watch captain. "Now, they're not. ... I mean it put me up on my heels."
Earlier in the day, resident Debbie Bolden asked, "How can I feel comfortable any more?" Bolden, 57, who lives next door to the home where Finch was killed, also was dealing with Monday's shock: The day-care provider, DeLois Brown, 59, was her sister-in-law, and James Henry Bolden, 82, and Clover Dale Bolden, 81, were her father-in-law and mother-in-law.
"My father-in-law was a diabetic who had a leg amputated and was virtually blind," Bolden said. "My mother-in-law was going deaf. My sister-in-law wouldn't hurt a fly. Who would do such a thing? What is this world coming to?"
A gruesome discovery
A 911 transcript of a woman's call to police before and as she entered the Brown home early Monday captured the gruesome nature of the killings.
In it, she said she saw a man outside the house after she dropped off her child: "I called the day-care lady and told her there's a suspicious guy outside the house and then I heard her on the phone and she [said] no, and then the phone went dead."
After returning to the house and finding her child safe, she began looking for DeLois Brown. The dispatcher heard her say: "Mrs. Brown? Mrs. Brown? Oh, Jesus Christ, Mrs. Brown, no! No!"
She tells the dispatcher "They're dead."
Dispatcher: "How. What do you mean they're dead?"
Caller: "Mrs. Brown, her dad and the mom."
Dispatcher: "OK, what are you seeing?"
Caller: "They're in the bed."
Witnesses, including the 911 caller, told police they saw a black man, in his 20s, wearing a blue jacket over a gray hooded sweat shirt, riding away on a BMX-style bicycle with something under his jacket. Police continue to search for the suspect and have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
"These are horrific events, we realize that," Brooklyn Park Police Chief Mike Davis said. "Now the community has to step up. If and when tragedy strikes, a more-connected community is more resilient."
Progress against crime
Davis, a longtime Brooklyn Park resident, said this week's tragic events don't shatter the progress the city recently has made in crime reduction. He talked about Brooklyn Park's crime prevention unit, 219 neighborhood watch groups and informational meetings.
"What I'm concerned most is how residents feel," he said.
In recent years, the Police Department's crime prevention unit has created dozens of anti-crime programs. In addition to the watch groups, the city offers homeowner and landlord training, plus post-burglary informational meetings. It uses electronic media and social networking to mobilize targeted neighborhoods to burglary trends. Officials collaborate with police departments in other suburbs. The city is continuing a two-year effort to curb juvenile crime using youth outreach: a bike rodeo, fishing field trips for cops and kids, a safety camp, and park and recreation programs.
Still, residents have been shaken by this week's crimes, said Mayor Jeff Lunde, who said he's received calls and e-mails from frightened folks and others offering to help.
"The confidence we've been trying to build up is still fragile," Lunde said. "It's a roller coaster. You see the trend going down, but that doesn't mean there won't be weeks like this."
Josh Zinda, 30, who lives around the corner from Brown's house, said: "I'll feel comfortable when they apprehend whoever did this. Things just aren't the same as they were before this week."
Wanda Curry, 42, who described herself as the "Brooklyn Park mama" of Ashantai Finch, the woman killed Tuesday, said the suspect was Finch's former boyfriend. The homicide took place in the home of Finch's sister, where Finch was living, neighbors said.
"She was a beautiful girl," Curry said of Finch, who is from Saginaw, Mich., and worked at the intake desk of a local medical facility. "She was trying to help [the suspect] out, by giving him a place to stay. And now this. She was my baby."