Two hours into the new year, the revelry was winding down inside a bar in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood when gunfire pierced the air.
A flurry of shots struck a man in the parking lot outside Johnny Baby’s during closing time. Responding officers found him gravely wounded in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that had crashed at the scene.
His death marked a bloody 12-hour stretch that saw three homicides in separate incidents throughout the Twin Cities — and continued a spate of shooting deaths in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“This isn’t the way we wanted to start 2020,” St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said during a Wednesday morning news conference. “We’d like to turn the page on what was a violent year. ... Sadly, we’re well-versed in investigating these types of incidents.”
The capital city doubled its previous homicide rate with 31 murders in 2019 — reaching its highest level since the mid-1990s.
Across the river, Minneapolis ended the year with 48 homicides, which included the fatal shooting of woman on New Year’s Eve. (Figures for both cities include fatal police shootings.) She was identified by family and friends on social media, as well as the Hennepin County medical examiner, as Monique Baugh of Minneapolis. The 28-year-old mother of two worked as an agent for Kris Lindahl Real Estate, according to her Facebook page.
Hours later, both Twin Cities law enforcement agencies awoke to fresh murder investigations on New Year’s Day.
In Minneapolis, police found two stabbing victims in a car near Broadway and N. Fremont Avenue about 5 a.m. Wednesday. One died at the scene, and the other was taken to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale with noncritical injuries. Details about that case were slim Wednesday.
When St. Paul police were called to the 900 block of W. University Avenue around 2 a.m. on a report of a shooting, they found a man wounded inside a car that had crashed into the Johnny Baby’s parking lot fence, according to emergency dispatch audio. Officers found a handful of bullet casings scattered on the ground nearby. A suspect dressed all in black had reportedly fled in an unknown direction, dispatchers relayed to police.
Bar staff told investigators that they were unaware of any fights spilling outside during the New Year’s Eve celebration that night, according to dispatch audio. Police could not say whether the victim was a patron.
On Wednesday afternoon, tire tracks in the snow led straight into a bowed section of wrought-iron fence surrounding the bar and adjacent shopping mall, Sunrise Plaza.
Although authorities did not name the victim, family members identified him as Carl Dobbs Jr., 31. Dobbs, who went by the nickname CJ, was getting his life back together, relatives said. He was on probation for a 2018 firearms conviction.
He’d gotten his own apartment, a job in construction and a new car — all in hopes of being closer to his three young children, ages 7, 6 and 3.
“I’m just worried about the kids not having a father,” said Dobbs’ uncle, Melvin Chatman, who flew in from Denver after getting the news. “He loved his family.”
Dobbs’ mother, Pandora Reynolds, lamented Wednesday night that authorities had not yet allowed her to see her son’s body and so far had provided little information about what happened to him.
Family and friends gathered to grieve outside the parking lot where he died, tying bunches of balloons around a tree and laying flowers at its roots.
Mourners configured candles into the shape of a heart and left them lit as they drove away.
Johnny Baby’s is well-known to law enforcement. In May, Michael Gray was fatally shot in the parking lot and another man was killed there in 2017. Last year, Linders said police responded to about 99 calls for service at the establishment.
Neither police department has made an arrest in the respective cases.
Anyone with information in the St. Paul shooting can call 651-266-5650. In Minneapolis, call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
Tips for both can be provided through CrimeStoppersMN.org.