Killings rat­tle a Puerto Rico strug­gling to re­cover

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Ale­jan­dra Rosa and Frances Robles

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Liz G. Ro­driguez Quinonez grew up schooled in be­ing able to throw her body to the floor in the mid­dle of the night, in the event that stray bul­lets from a nearby shootout came crash­ing through her win­dow.

But it was only this past fall when Ro­driguez, who op­er­ates a food truck in a town just east of the Puerto Ri­can cap­i­tal, ex­pe­ri­enced her first mur­der: Stand­ing by the stove in her truck one morn­ing in Septem­ber, she heard a se­ries of pops, then scream­ing, and re­al­ized that the man who was the in­tended tar­get of the gun­fire was stand­ing right be­hind her truck. She ducked – thanks to the train­ing from her youth – but there was no hope for the man, who died only a few feet away.

It was not yet noon.

“I saw the dead body. He was around 30 years old. It was hor­ri­ble,” Ro­driguez, 30, said with a shud­der.

Puerto Rico has long had one of the high­est mur­der rates in the coun­try, al­most all of it at­trib­ut­able to gang vi­o­lence. But a re­cent string of brazen day­light killings, some of them cap­tured on video and widely shared on so­cial me­dia, have shaken the pop­u­la­tion and wor­ried lo­cal and fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who thought they had seen ev­ery­thing in the roil­ing, pop­u­lous city of San Juan.

On Jan. 6, sev­eral men en­gaged in a morn­ing shootout on the ser­vice road of a ma­jor thor­ough­fare in Isla Verde, near the air­port, leav­ing one man dead. On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, a gas sta­tion se­cu­rity cam­era in Do­rado cap­tured a gun­man in a ski mask who calmly walked up to a Honda, fired at its driver and left.

On Thurs­day, Kevin Fret, an openly gay mu­si­cian with a large so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing, was gunned down as he rode a mo­tor­bike be­fore dawn in San Juan.

The case that barely made the news: A 10-year-old boy had been shot in Coamo the night be­fore.

With head­lines re­port­ing that 22 peo­ple had al­ready lost their lives vi­o­lently in the first cou­ple weeks of 2019, Gov. Ri­cardo Rossello con­vened a meet­ing of the heads of all the com­mon­wealth and fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies, who promised a crack­down. The pub­lic safety sec­re­tary dis­missed the no­tion of a crime wave, even as po­lice as­so­ci­a­tions were call­ing for his ouster.

Puerto Rico, in the wake of bank­ruptcy and the dev­as­ta­tion of Hur­ri­cane Maria, is en­dur­ing a sink­ing econ­omy and a mass ex­o­dus. And while the mur­der rate is far lower than it was at its peak seven years ago, the de­cline of­fers lit­tle con­so­la­tion when nearly 5,000 po­lice of­fi­cers have quit in the past few years and even a for­mer po­lice chief says she is afraid to leave her house after dark.

Twenty-five years after Puerto Rico made head­lines by send­ing its Na­tional Guard to pa­trol ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods, the is­land is still one of the most dan­ger­ous places in the world, even with steady de­clines in vi­o­lent crime.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.