Tot's injury during shooting spurs call for change

| Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Neighbors should be outraged over drug deals and shootings in Homewood and help curb crime, a community activist said Tuesday after a toddler injured in what police called a drug deal gone bad was released from a hospital.

The 18-month-old girl was cut above her eye by flying glass and debris when shooting broke out, Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said. Her mother, who brought her along Monday on a trip from Kittanning to buy heroin, remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, police said, and a man who was shot was treated for a graze wound.

Police made no arrests in the case.

Homewood statistically records the highest number of felonies in the city every year, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. recently identified it as the city's most dangerous neighborhood.

"Everyone — government, schools, churches, law enforcement — owns a little piece of the responsibility for what is happening in neighborhoods like Homewood," said Rashad Byrdsong, founder of the Homewood-based Community Empowerment Association, which aims to bring jobs, education, housing and development to impoverished urban neighborhoods.

"If we throw up our hands and give up, and let Homewood go down the drain, a lot of other communities in Pittsburgh are going to follow," Byrdsong said.

Kittanning police identified the toddler's mother as Julie Brown, 20, from the Kittanning area. She was hospitalized in stable condition with bullet wounds in her face and shoulder. Christopher Montgomery, 33, also of the Kittanning area, was grazed in the head, police said. Another person with the victims, identified as Larry Montgomery, 26, was not injured.

Stangrecki said Allegheny County Department of Children, Youth and Families was called after Monday's shooting but would not say whether the agency took custody of the tot.

"Unfortunately, people commit crimes in front of children all the time," Stangrecki said.

The shooting just after 5 p.m. happened in a secluded area of Perchment Street near Canada Way in Homewood. Stangrecki said the victims drove their Jeep Cherokee there to buy heroin, and a purple-colored Corsica or Beretta pulled next to them. Police were looking for that vehicle, which has a dented right front fender.

When the driver of the victims' sport utility vehicle tried to back out of the street, Stangrecki said, two men jumped from the purple car, pointed guns at them and "demanded to know why (they) were there" before firing, he said.

One man was armed with an assault rifle and the other had a handgun, Stangrecki said.

After the shooting, Larry Montgomery jumped into the driver's seat and drove several blocks to a convenience store on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills, where they stopped to get help, city police Chief Nate Harper said.

Penn Hills police broadcast a description of the gunmen's vehicle, and city police stopped a similar vehicle in Homewood. Officers questioned the occupants at police headquarters but do not believe they were involved in the shooting.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Pittsburgh police at 412-323-7800.

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