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Allegheny County's summer slayings confound police

| Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, 10:52 p.m.

A surge in killings this summer has frustrated local officials, police and community leaders who are searching for ways to stop the violence.

There have been 40 homicides since May in Allegheny County, according to the Medical Examiner's Office, up from 26 between May and August of last year. Six people have been killed in Wilkinsburg alone since May 1.

“It's been ugly,” said Wilkinsburg Council President Jason Cohn. “I wish I knew what caused it, and I wish I knew how to stop it.”

County police Lt. Andrew Schurman said homicides were abnormally low last year. County police have investigated four homicides this year that involved two victims each, he said, and many died of a single gunshot.

“When you have violent, random shootings, those are hard to predict and hard to set up an enforcement to stop,” Schurman said.

Homestead had its first homicide in three years on Aug. 2 when someone shot Jamar Finn, 19, through a window. On Friday, a drive-by shooting in the borough injured one man, who also was wounded in a shooting at the playground on 16th Avenue this summer, police Chief Jeffrey DeSimone said. Police arrested Josh Bristo, 20, and charged him with aggravated assault and other counts.

“I know we're not alone in this,” DeSimone said.

Timothy Boyd, 41, was walking home in Wilkinsburg when someone fatally shot him early Thursday. Police have not identified a clear motive, but in other recent homicides, detectives believe drugs and ongoing neighborhood disputes were factors.

“The young people are victimized,” said McKees Rocks police Chief Robert Cifrulak. “Young people are typically arrested or suspected in the shootings, and it just is the trend.

“They're carrying guns, and they're not afraid to use them.”

There have been four homicides in McKees Rocks since May. Cifrulak believes more community involvement and a willingness to call police to report suspicious activity could help.

“There's no one single answer,” he said. “Doubling, tripling, quadrupling police isn't necessarily going to solve this problem now. It's much deeper-rooted than that.”

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was unavailable for comment, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

“The county's role is fairly limited as each of these areas have their own police forces,” Downs said.

County Councilman Bob Macey, whose district includes McKeesport, Duquesne and Port Vue, said he would like to meet with emergency and law enforcement officials and ask them what the county can do to help.

“It's important to get the lay of the land and see what exactly can be done, whether through financial aid, help through the various county departments. ... I believe there are some answers. But unless a community asks for help, the county is not just going to jump in and do something without a plan,” Macey said.

Marc Cherna, director of the county Department of Human Services, said there is no dedicated funding for violence prevention programs in the county.

“We'd save so much money if we can prevent these kind of things. You're paying somewhere along the line,” he said.

In Wilkinsburg, churches have come together to protect children from violence. The Sanctuary Project provides chaplains, holds prayer vigils and sponsors food programs, an art and talent show and even free haircuts in an attempt to connect with youths, said Ann Greider, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Ministry.

“It's a slow process,” Greider said. “It's not something that's going to go away overnight. We may not even see the fruits of our labor for years to come. You plant your seeds, and you have to wait for it to grow.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or

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