Two suspects opened fire on a group of people hanging out in a parking lot in the Little Earth neighborhood Wednesday. When the bullets stopped flying, six people ages 14 to 46 had been hit.

Anger mixed with grief Thursday over this latest tragedy to strike Little Earth, the patch of three-story townhouses in south Minneapolis that is the heart of the Twin Cities' American Indian community.

But outside Little Earth, it was a different story. There were no protests, no billboards, no calls for intervention from St. Paul or Washington.

Just the month before, 19-year-old Alexander LaGarde was shot dead while visiting friends in the complex. Residents who attended a small community rally shortly after LaGarde's death wondered then why Little Earth didn't seem to register in the mounting outrage over gun violence. The same question was asked again Thursday.

If the current pace of this year holds, Minneapolis will surpass its 280 gunshot victims in 2017, the second-highest tally of the past 10 years. There have been 80 people wounded in shootings as of Thursday, including 18 in the past two weeks.

Little Earth residents say the shootings have picked up there in recent years, fueled by the exploding opioid epidemic and warring gangs.

Calvin Nicholas suspects that most of the violence is coming into the complex from outside drug dealers with no ties to the community.

"I've seen them come in by cab — and they get off in the front area and they sell their drugs and they leave," said the 68-year-old resident.

The shootings follow an almost predictable pattern, residents say: City leaders come around as long as TV cameras are present, condemning the violence and pledging to solve the area's chronic problems with promises of after-school programs and additional police officers. But in the end nothing changes, residents say.

What the community needs most, they say, is not extra police, but basic needs met — such as mental health and drug addiction services, and job training programs for young men at risk of joining gangs.

"I think it's a lot of neglect," said Clyde Bellecourt, a longtime community organizer. "I think it has to do with a lot of racism and ignorance by the city of Minneapolis with regards to the Indian community."

Clustered violence

Advocates say stricter gun control measures like those proposed after the Parkland, Fla., school massacre — including requiring all gun buyers to pass background checks, raising the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons and restricting the number of bullets allowed in magazines — are needed to prevent mass shootings and stem the epidemic of gun violence.

But others say it will take more than tougher gun laws to curb the cyclical violence in places like Little Earth, where many firearms used in crimes were obtained illegally. While police are seeing more powerful firearms and higher-capacity magazines on the streets, handguns are still by far the most common weapons used in crimes.

Each year, police recover hundreds of lost or stolen weapons that were legally purchased in Minnesota or elsewhere before falling into the wrong hands. The serial numbers were often scratched off to mask their origins. Others are bought legitimately by "straw purchasers" with clean criminal records who either sell or give them to criminals barred from possessing firearms.

A recent Star Tribune poll found that most Minnesotans support stricter gun control laws nationwide, including a ban on most types of high-powered weapons. Opinions on other proposals were split along partisan lines in a state where more than half of households have firearms.

Efforts at gun legislation have stumbled at the state and federal levels.

Rachael Joseph, who became an activist after her aunt was killed in a 2003 shooting at the Hennepin County Government Center, wondered whether people react more strongly to high-profile shootings such as the Parkland case because of the victims' race and perceived innocence.

"Just because it happened on such a national scale to a group of upper-middle-class white kids, I think it probably woke a lot of people up," she said.

While overall crime has receded to near-historic lows, gun violence remains stubbornly present in certain Minneapolis neighborhoods.

Over the past decade, crimes committed with firearms jumped more than 60 percent across the city, from 1,611 in 2007 to 2,523 in 2016, the latest year for which reliable statistics were available. And while the number of people shot last year, 280, was lower than the 341 wounded by gunfire in 2016, it was the second-highest total of the past decade.

Gun violence tends to be clustered in specific blocks, according to Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jeff Egge, who heads the department's crime analysis team. The areas are often anchored by bars, convenience stores, bus stops, sex-oriented businesses and other places that "bring together motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence or lack of suitable guardians."

In Little Earth, a one-block street abutting the housing complex has had more shootings in the past quarter century than any other in the city, Egge said. It was part of the nearly 8 percent of city blocks that together accounted for 64 percent of gun violence between 1990 and 2015.

'A big hit'

In the most recent Little Earth shooting, police say the two suspects fled across Cedar Avenue, disappearing into one of the complex's townhouses.

Detectives followed a trail of bloody footprints to the townhouse, where they learned a 14-year-old suspect lived with his parents. Inside, they found an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle stashed in an upstairs bedroom closet, a 20-gauge Winchester shotgun, and multiple rounds of ammunition, a detective wrote in court documents. A search of the other suspect's apartment turned up two handguns and more ammunition, the detective said.

The boy and a 21-year-old man were arrested in connection with the shooting, and a female suspect, 35, was arrested on suspicion of aiding an offender and possessing a weapon without a permit. Both male suspects are Little Earth residents.

Emotions are still raw from the slaying of LaGarde the month before. LaGarde, as he did most nights, had dropped by Little Earth to visit friends when he was confronted by another teenager, authorities said. An argument broke out, then gunfire, and the 19-year-old was shot dead. Shrapnel hit a 14-year-old boy in the face, head and legs, but he is expected to survive. Juan Antonio Vasquez Jr., the suspected gunman, was later captured on the White Earth Indian Reservation in north-central Minnesota and charged with second-degree murder.

Samantha Fairbanks, a social worker at the American Indian OIC training and employment service in Minneapolis, also runs BUILD, a violence prevention program that teaches Indian youths how to resolve conflicts by connecting them with their culture. It is one of several Little Earth-area organizations receiving antiviolence funds from the city.

"Where are those people when it comes to events like this?" said Fairbanks, motioning around a nearly empty atrium during an event earlier this month that focused on Indian violence.

"We're statistically insignificant, so what is it to them?" Fairbanks said. "To us, it's a big hit."

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany