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P-B special report: After the gunfire, a search for answers

By Matt Russell

The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Six inches.

That was the distance between close call and tragedy on Oct. 12, 2008, when a bullet from a drive-by shooting pierced the walls of a northwest Rochester home and entered a mattress near the head of a sleeping young boy.

The gunfire was the result of a long-simmering feud between a pair of rival gangs, the Asian Boyz and Me And the HomieZ (MAHZ), according to police records. The gunfire was likely intended for the house next door, the records show, and no arrests resulted in the case despite what appears from police documents to have been a vigorous investigation.

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Gun violence rose in Rochester from 2007 through 2009, playing a significant role in escalating concerns about public safety that have prompted a series of community meetings. While the gunfire described above resulted in no injuries, in other cases gun wounds changed lives.

"There's a normal, constant pain that I'm getting used to that I don't like," said one gunfire victim who asked to not be identified.

Looking at the big picture, authorities are concerned that the more often guns are fired, the more young gang members will feel paranoid and feel the need to arm themselves.

"We're worried about that," said Steve Thompson, the Rochester Police Department's gang investigator.

Who are the people who have been pulling the trigger in Rochester, or have been accused of doing so? What is driving gun violence locally? How often are suspects caught, and what consequences do they face?

In an effort to answer these questions, the Post-Bulletin examined 40 instances of gunfire that have happened in Rochester since 2007, checking police reports, court records and newspaper archives as well as talking with law enforcement officials and interviewing others in the community.

The results will be reported in two parts. On Saturday, the focus is on what has been driving the recent gun violence and what trends emerge when the cases are examined as a whole.

On Monday, the focus will be on consequences: How often has gun violence resulted in arrests? When arrests are made, what punishments are given? Has the criminal justice system kept them from re-offending?

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The focus will be not just on bad news, but will also include a story about neighborhors working together to turn things around in their area, as well as offering ideas (Monday) for positive change.

While gunfire was reported in Rochester last week, things have been relatively quiet in the city following five incidents of gun violence in December. One place where the calm has most been appreciated is the Cimarron Park neighborhood in northwest Rochester, which remains wary after being hit more often by drive-by gunfire than perhaps anywhere else in the city since 2007.

"I hope it's not deceptively quiet," said neighborhood association president Marilyn Meyer, who worries things could change during the warm-weather months.

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