The fatal shootings of two men 24 hours apart and dozens of reports of gunfire in St. Paul have city and civic leaders scrambling to stop the violence before it grows.
Police Chief Thomas Smith, Mayor Chris Coleman and black community leaders will address the recent spate of violence at a news conference Wednesday, as police roll out special teams of investigators and extra officers to respond to crimes involving guns.
The move was prompted by the Sunday night killing of Bobby D. Collins, 18, at Indian Mounds Regional Park, and the Monday evening shooting death of 31-year-old Charles A. Hudson in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.
“Our investigators are working very hard to investigate and determine who is responsible for these crimes,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a police spokesman.
Police responded to about 32 reports of shots fired across the city between Friday and Monday. The previous weekend, police responded to about 28 reports of gunfire.
“I definitely think it’s unusual,” Ernster said of the weekend’s call volume, noting that a comparable weekend in 2015 had 10 such calls.
In addition to the two deaths, six people were injured by gunfire in the past few days.
Tyrone Terrill, chairman of the African-American Leadership Council of St. Paul, leaders from the St. Paul NAACP, the St. Paul Black Ministerial Alliance, other community leaders and Coleman and Smith plan to discuss the violence at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Indian Mounds Regional Park.
The scenic park perched above the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul is a popular spot not known for violence. But on a warm Sunday evening, as about 300 people gathered at the large shelter on Mounds Boulevard near Earl Street, shots rang out and bedlam ensued as partygoers fled on foot and in vehicles.
Collins, of St. Paul, was found dead at the scene. A second shooting victim showed up at Regions Hospital and was treated and released.
Two men were charged Tuesday in connection with Sunday’s apparent gang-related shooting.
Prince Kavanaugh Romel Williams, 24, of Minneapolis, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with one count each of crime committed for the benefit of a gang and first-degree riot. Rashawn D. Porter, 18, of St. Paul, was charged with one count of crime committed for the benefit of a gang.
Both told police that they were Collins’ friends.
A third man was arrested in connection with the shooting but has not been charged.
The charges don’t specify who shot Collins or how it happened. Ramsey County Attorney spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein and police declined to say whether one of the three men arrested is the suspected shooter or whether that person remains at-large.
According to the charges: Collins was shot in the back of the head about 7:20 p.m. after a verbal altercation between several people that “appeared” to be gang-related.
A woman told police that she was at a barbecue at the park with her boyfriend, a member of the Forever After Money (FAM) gang, when five men she considered gang members approached them and accused him of stealing their gang name.
“[The woman] wanted to leave, but her boyfriend told her he would fight the others one-on-one,” the criminal complaint said. “[The woman] took out her mace and sprayed several of the gang members.”
Someone swung a tree branch and gunfire erupted.
Police reviewed a witness’ cellphone video of the incident and identified Williams, Porter, Collins and two other people as the group that confronted the woman’s boyfriend, the charges said.
Porter and the woman’s boyfriend “squared off” in the street as about two dozen people gathered around two nearby vehicles.
The man who recorded the footage told police that Williams was shooting at another shooter.
In an interview with police, Williams identified himself in a photo taken from the cellphone recording. He allegedly told police that he thought the altercation was between two women, and that someone had shot at him.
Williams declined further comment when asked by police if he fired back in self-defense.
Police identified Williams as a member of the Homiland gang and Porter as a member of the Everybody Killa and FAM gangs.
Tuesday morning, Carmelo Marrero sat alone on a bench near balloons tied to a post and bouquets of flowers left in memory of Collins, who was supposed to leave for college in Wisconsin this July.
“He’s just a funny, goofy type of kid,” Marrero said. “He was just always the one to make everybody laugh. … He’d just start dancing or make a not-funny joke.”
Marrero said he sometimes ribbed Collins for not being tough. Sitting alone in the rain Tuesday, he reflected on the pressure young men in his peer group face to posture when confronted.
“I feel like it was my fault, because there were so many things I could’ve done to steer him in a different direction,” Marrero said.
Collins had attended Washington Technology Magnet School and graduated while serving a year in a juvenile detention facility, Marrero said. He was released from the facility in March, about a month after he turned 18.
Court records show that in March 2015, Collins was sent to Woodward Academy for a year after pleading guilty to possessing a loaded Smith & Wesson .22-caliber handgun in his bedroom. Court documents alleged that he was “involved in gang behavior/activity,” specifically, with the Everybody Killa gang.
Marrero said Collins was not in a gang but knew people who associated with gangs.
Police would not say whether they believe Collins’ case is related to any of the calls of shots fired or the Monday killing of Hudson, who was shot in the 400 block of Magnolia Avenue E. Hudson, of South St. Paul, and was taken to Regions Hospital, where he died. No arrests have been made in that killing.
Hudson’s family could not be reached for comment.