Echo of a Murder

Police and neighbors alike say gang activity in Pershing Park has turned from child's play into a deadly turf war
David Kern

In the seven months since her 18-year-old son Henry was gunned down during a drug deal gone bad, Nancy Moormann has tried to do right by his memory. Henry and his tight-knit crowd, known to law enforcement officials and others as the 2-1 Click, had been blamed for a variety of disruptions last summer in the affluent, mostly white Minneapolis-Edina neighborhood around 50th and France--fights, graffiti, robberies, and car thefts. In January, Henry was shot in the back while he lay wounded in a suburban Richfield parking lot. Police found a half-pound of marijuana in his car trunk, and figured the teen charged in the murder had been out to rob him ("From 2-1 to Zero," 4/15/98).

After her son's funeral, Moormann felt compelled to prevent another death, so she's kept in touch with Henry's friends and tried to offer them a sympathetic ear. On July 19 she invited a couple of them over to hang out and have dinner. But the kids didn't show up. With the meal cold and the hour late, she says she phoned one of the boys. "Don't you know," she raged at his voice mail, "the last time someone didn't show up for dinner he ended up dead?"

What Moormann didn't know was that while she sat waiting, her dinner guests were dodging bullets in Pershing Park--the same southwest Minneapolis park frequented last summer by her son and his pals in the 2-1 Click. Details of the Sunday night shooting are still sketchy and under investigation, says Capt. William Jacobs of the Minneapolis Park Police. This much is known: A group of around 20 teenagers were playing basketball that night, according to several witnesses. Two carloads of kids came cruising up side streets, got out, and ambushed the first group with chains, baseball bats, and at least one gun. An argument broke out, and one of the alleged attackers fired into the fray, hitting 15-year-old Charles Rosch.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, heard the shots. She rushed to her front door and saw a figure lying in the grass. "He was bleeding quite profusely from the knee," she says. "He was conscious but very weak, very pale. There was quite a bit of blood and some of his friends were standing around. We used a T-shirt as a tourniquet." The victim was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he remains in stable condition.

"We're not prepared to say that the 2-1 Click is involved, simply because we haven't identified or interviewed the perpetrator," Capt. Jacobs says. "Until we do that, the exact motive isn't clear." No one has yet been arrested in connection with the shooting. One theory, neighbors say, is that the fight began when one of the teens ran over another's bicycle with his car.

What is certain is that the ongoing violence in Pershing Park--caused by members of the 2-1 Click or other parties--has the neighborhood on edge once again. Last summer the community polarized, with area businesses and angry residents demanding a crackdown on juveniles they believed to be involved in criminal behavior. Minneapolis police launched a "zero-tolerance" campaign, stopping kids on everything from curfew violations to cigarette smoking. Based on the teens' suspected drug dealing and graffiti tags, police classified the 2-1 Click as a criminal gang--a move that raised a storm of protest from the involved kids and many of their parents at a series of community meetings.

In April and May of this year, residents complained about late-night parties, loud music, and fights in the park, says 13th Ward City Council member Steve Minn, who represents the area. In response, Minn changed parking regulations around Pershing Park to improve visibility, park police stepped up their patrol schedule, park staff locked up the basketball rims at dusk, and a neighborhood committee organized its own civilian walking patrol. "It was a broad-based effort," says Dave Delvoye, acting chair of the committee. "This latest incident seems to have drawn attention to our work." At a meeting two days after the July 19 shooting, over 40 residents showed up to join the patrol.

Sue Donahue, who lives near the park, entered last summer's uproar on the side of the teens and their parents. A retired counselor for troubled youth, she defended the 2-1 Click--fielding calls from the press, speaking out at community meetings, volunteering her time to form a parents' support group, and offering her free services to the troubled teens. She saw it as a civic duty, and felt compassion for the kids. "Now I just feel angry," she said after last week's shooting. "I can't advocate for people who put blinders on. I think the parents have done a lot, but it's clear they haven't done enough. And now it's no longer just about getting your kid off drugs or to mind a curfew; now we're talking about your kid's life." Donahue, since last summer one of the 2-1 Click's most vocal apologists, now says, "I think we should go back to zero tolerance."

She may get her wish. Minn is set to call a community meeting of police, residents, parents, and teens--anyone who's become a player since youth violence erupted in the formerly sedate neighborhood. He's also asked the Minneapolis Police Department to increase its presence on the streets and alleys in the area, on the grounds that "we need some level of uniformed enforcement to let people know we're not giving turf up to anyone."

For Nancy Moormann the week following the latest shooting has felt like déjà vu all over again. Earlier this month Jason Valleen, one of the suspects charged in the death of her son, pled guilty to second-degree murder. He didn't, however, agree to testify as part of his plea agreement, and his sentencing hearing isn't scheduled until a month after the trial of accused trigger-man Justin Stiles, slated to begin August 31. Moormann's hope that Henry's death would serve as a wake-up call to troubled teens in the neighborhood, some of them 2-1 Click members, seems shattered by the gunplay and shooting last week. "If Henry's death had no impact on these kids," she says, "I don't know what will."

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