Sunday: Shooting of teen on bus 'appalling'

The killing in St. Paul was the third violent attack on city buses in two months.

Spurred on by an apparent dispute between two groups of young people, a teenager leaned inside a Metro Transit bus in downtown St. Paul early Sunday and fatally shot a 16-year-old boy in the chest, police said.

Family members identified the victim late Sunday as Earl Freeman of St. Paul.

The shooting was the third violent attack on a bus to end in death or serious injury since early March.

"Metro Transit hasn't experienced this kind of violence on board our buses in years," Metro Transit Police Chief Dave Indrehus said.

Unfortunately, "life on the bus reflects life on the streets," he added in a written statement.

Indrehus said Sunday's shooting aboard the Route 74 bus near E. 5th and Sibley Streets in the Lowertown area was "a deplorable act of violence ... tragic and appalling."

Freeman's aunt, Rochelle Kinsey, told KMSP-TV, Channel 9 that she became Freeman's guardian after his mother died eight years ago.

"If I had to sum it up and describe him in one word, I'd just say amazing -- totally amazing," she told the TV station.

Freeman was shot shortly after midnight following an apparent confrontation between the two groups, St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said. Walsh said he didn't know the nature of the disagreement or how many people were involved. Police don't know whether the dispute was gang-related, he said. Detectives were reviewing bus security-camera footage.

The suspect, who fled on foot, was described as a 16- to 18-year-old black male, 5 feet 6 to 5 feet 8 inches tall with a slender build. He was wearing a white T-shirt and dark baggy pants, police said.

Route 74 buses run between the 46th Street light-rail station in Minneapolis and Maplewood, traveling along W. 7th Street in St. Paul before entering downtown.

On Sunday afternoon, outside LoTo LifeCafe, just around the corner from the incident, Lowertown-area residents Joe McAnally, 58, and Scott Zimmer, 29, said they were surprised to learn of the shooting. They have felt safe walking around at night, although Zimmer said he tries to avoid the bus stops along E. 5th Street, where groups will gather.

Aboard the Route 74 bus Sunday, passengers riding east toward downtown St. Paul included a mix of the worried and the nonchalant. Some riders said they had not heard about the shooting, while others rode in pairs for safety.

A high school senior who identified herself as Sandy and asked that her last name not be used because she fears for her safety said if Saturday night hadn't been her prom night, she probably would have been on the 74 bus when the shooting occurred. "It's pretty scary to think about," she said.

A friend of hers who also is a friend of the victim called her on her cell phone after the prom to tell her about the shooting, she said. "He was just shocked," she added.

Speculation about the shooting ran high Sunday afternoon.

John Johnson, 22, who jumped aboard the bus after a walk with his nephews, said the shooting could be the work of a "hot head" or perhaps gang-related. Either way, he said, he was surprised someone would actually shoot someone on a bus. "I'll be more cautious to avoid conflict," he said.

Steve Buttweiler, who drove buses for 11 years, said he walked the shooting scene shortly after it happened. He said Metro Transit "has done a pretty good job with safety overall. They have cameras and security and all. But society is changing."

Violence in 2007

In his statement, Indrehus noted that nationally "and here at home, we've experienced acts of outrageous violence in recent weeks." Metro Transit, in turn, has ramped up security by hiring more officers and improving its on-board camera system, among other steps, he said.

On March 8, a 34-year-old man was shot in the chest while trying to calm a loud group of young men about 7:12 p.m. on a Route 5 bus in north Minneapolis. That victim survived. Four days later, on a Route 10 bus near SE. 5th Street and Central Avenue in Minneapolis, police said a 47-year-old Minneapolis man confronted a 60-year-old Hilltop man who was swearing at the bus driver, punching the older man and knocking him backward out of the bus. He hit his head on pavement and died.

The Hennepin County attorney's office filed charges in both cases.

In addition, a suspected gang member was charged last month with allegedly helping rob and beat a 21-year-old man who was buying a ticket March 7 at the light-rail station in Minneapolis' Warehouse District. The attack occurred about 9 p.m. and prompted County Attorney Mike Freeman to say later "this senseless crap has to stop."

Police ask that anyone with information about Sunday's shooting call 651-291-1111.

 

alonetree@startribune.com • 612-673-4455 ddepass@startribune.com • 612-673-7725

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