Early last year, Shannon Canny and her family heard the Lord calling them to move from Andover to north Minneapolis, to a place where they could serve their neighbors and help people in need. They found a two-story house on a block with two boarded-up homes, rented duplexes, aging homeowners and a man who rolled by in his wheelchair each day, picking up trash off the sidewalk.
Soon the Canny children were playing football on the empty lot next door with other neighborhood kids, including a rambunctious 3-year-old named Terrell Mayes Jr.
The day after Christmas, a stray bullet passed in front of the Canny house and hit the Mayes house next door, killing Terrell.
The unsolved killing drew hundreds to the block for a peace march and hundreds more to Terrell's funeral nine days later.
One resident of the 2600 block of Colfax Avenue N. said it didn't surprise him that someone was hit by a stray bullet: People who live along this block say they hear gunfire all the time. Police records show 18 confirmed shots-fired calls over the past year in a four-block-square area that includes this one, the heaviest concentration in the city.
Still, the Cannys say they're going to stay. "We were pretty realistic about what we were moving into," said Shannon Canny. "We just didn't expect that kind of incident quite so close to home."
They have invested in a neighborhood that has seen years of movement in the opposite direction: Fewer people own their own home on this block than at any time in the past 15 years as homeowners seek safer neighborhoods.
This is the same block that was profiled by the Star Tribune in 1996, when the paper reported how neighbors on the block were coping with the transition from owner-occupied homes to rentals as landlords from the suburbs snatched up Minneapolis properties. The trend has continued, with the number of owner-occupied homes falling from two-thirds in 1996 to less than half today.
The foreclosure crisis took another swipe at the block's stability, with 14 foreclosures on 12 properties since 2007. Two properties were condemned and boarded up in 2008, city records show.
A recent study concluded that Hawthorne, which includes this block, is among the most problematic of the North Side's 12 neighborhoods because of the combination of deteriorating housing, a 10 percent vacancy rate, a 48 percent drop in housing market value over the past 3 1/2 years and only 33 percent owner-occupied homes.
Neighbors' fears, optimism
Opinions about the block vary from house to house, with some people hoping to move, while others, including one of the block's oldest residents, are determined to stick around.
Shaliss Miller lives just down the street from the Mayes house. She said she plans to move for the sake of her own 3-year-old son. One day last week, she said she had already heard sirens four times that day and rumors of a shooting a block over.
"You have to worry about safety at night," said Odell Johnson, who lives across the street from the Mayes house. He said his fiancée heard gunshots the night Terrell was shot but didn't look out a window for fear she would be hit.
The police are responsive when he calls, Johnson said, but he said he doesn't feel that the police department truly cares about his neighborhood. He wishes the police would follow up with things and report back to neighbors about crimes in the area.
A few nights ago, someone knocked on Johnson's rear door at 11:30 p.m. He said he called out to see who was there, but no one answered, so he didn't open it.
"It could have led to something bad, to them or to my family," he said.
A bad house
Neighbor George Bazoff considers himself the block captain. He must use a wheelchair these days and, in less than a year, has put 475 miles on his latest chair, his third, as he patrols up and down the street. "I pick up a 30-gallon bag of trash every day," he said.
He said that a bad house a block over on Dupont causes much of the neighborhood commotion and that kids from that street have broken into his RV four times since it's been parked behind his house.
Still, killings have been rare, said Bazoff, who guesses that the last one was at the house next to his in 1992.
"That ain't too bad a record," he said.
Oradell Winters lives three doors down from the Mayes house, just across from Bazoff. Ever since Terrell's death, she checks the street before venturing out. "If people are walking the block, then I'll go out," she said.
She often baby-sits children, she said, and in the summer, they stay inside her upstairs apartment.
"It's not easy over here to live," she said.
"Everybody's scared. We want to know where these kids are getting all of these guns from."
Still, plenty of people have lived for decades on the block, including Walter Smith, the blues musician known as the force behind Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants.
Marcy Dolezal and her husband, Les, have lived in a large house surrounded by a white picket fence since 1945. Dolezal said she's become concerned by the number of sex offenders who have moved into the area.
The police have sent a notice every time one moves in, she said, and she's received three of those notices recently. "Why would they put so many here?" she wondered.
Shannon Canny said her family plans to stay put, buoyed by the relationships they've made with everyone on the block.
The kids play in the vacant lot next to their house and look forward to summer, when they will play kickball in the parking lot of the Nellie Stone Johnson school and put board games out on the front porch to share with others from the neighborhood.
"I'm not quick to give in to fearfulness," Canny said.
Staff writer Jane Friedmann contributed to this report. Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747