Standing in a circle with heads bowed, three dozen men, women and children stood in a Walgreens parking lot in north Minneapolis on Tuesday night, praying for peace.

They had come from several churches to call for an end to neighborhood violence that only days earlier had claimed the life of 14-year-old Quantell Braxton, found shot in the street several blocks away.

And then someone fired at them.

"As soon as I closed my eyes to pray, shots rang out," said K.G. Wilson, who said he heard seven or eight shots. Bullets struck a young woman who had been standing with friends nearby and grazed the face of a man who had been praying with the group, according to police and witnesses.

The woman is expected to survive, though she's listed in critical condition at North Memorial Hospital, according to police spokesman Sgt. Stephen McCarty. The man was not seriously injured, according to Wilson. Neither victim was identified. The 9:15 p.m. shooting at W. Broadway and Lyndale Avenue N. remains under investigation, McCarty said. Two suspects were questioned and released, he said. He said he doesn't know any motive for the violence.

The group was about to disband for the night, after three hours of prayer in the parking lot. The group gathers after outbreaks of violence, according to Wilson, but Tuesday's prayers were not the result of any specific crime.

Some at the prayer session included children as young as 6, he said. Wilson said that shortly before the shooting he saw three or four girls cross Broadway and come toward the group. They stopped behind him. Wilson said he saw the gunman ride away on a bicycle, but police could not confirm that Wednesday.

"The girl that was standing directly in back of me ran toward me and just collapsed in my arms," he said. "She said, 'They shot me, I'm shot.'"

The woman, 19, was shot once in the hip. Wilson said her mother called him from the hospital to say she had surgery. "She said, 'Thank you for helping my daughter,' and I said, 'I didn't help your daughter. Your daughter probably saved my life,'" said Wilson, who was convinced the bullet would have struck him.

"This little girl has never done anything to anybody," he said.

Sondra Samuels, president of the Peace Foundation, expressed sorrow at the incident.

"It's a heavy time," she said. "The thing that we're all grateful for is that this year, in comparison to last year, crime is down. We're moving in the right direction. But when one of our kids is hurt it's still as tragic as a gazillion. I think we need to continue to do more of the same. And that's deliberately focus on reducing violence."

"To the degree that the violence is happening, it's not saying as much about the kids as it does about us, the adults," she added. "We have work to do, but I think we're on the right path."

The Rev. Jerry McAfee, president of the Minnesota State Baptist Convention and pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, said the community has to stand ready to combat the violence.

"We have to resolve that we can't surrender our space come hell or high water. My mind-set is always, 'We come in peace.' But if you want war, I'll give you war. ... If we decide to stay in our houses and not challenge this stuff and these kids, we'll always lose."

Ron Edwards, a North Side community activist and a former member of the Police Community Relations Council, called the recent spike in violence frightening. "One of the things I'm concerned about is I don't think there's a real plan on how to address this problem," he said. "This raises some serious questions. ... The victims are getting younger, the perpetrators are getting younger and we seem to have fewer and fewer answers on how to deal with this."

Police statistics show a 16.7 percent drop so far this year for violent crime in north Minneapolis and a 12 percent drop citywide. Also down are aggravated assaults, the category of crime that includes shootings like Tuesday's. So far this year, north Minneapolis has seen 198 aggravated assaults; the total this time last year was 242.

Staff writer Daarel Burnette II contributed to this article. Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747