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Downtown shooting on Smithfield Street

| Thursday, April 19, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

A gunman shot another man at least seven times this morning at close range outside a Downtown day care center.

The victim, 27, of the Hill District, who suffered at least two gunshot wounds to the chest, was attacked about 8:40 a.m. in the 400 block of Smithfield Street, said police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki.

The victim is in critical condition at Mercy Hospital, Uptown and was undergoing surgery this afternoon, police said.

The victim was conscious and alert when he arrived in the emergency room, said Lt. Kevin Kraus, who declined to say what the victim told police about the shooter.

The gunman drove a stolen vehicle to Fourth Avenue, where he parked and walked up to a man as he talked on a pay phone in front of VIP Styles, Kraus said. The assailant pulled out a gun, put it to the man's head and when the man turned around, the gunman realized he had the wrong man, Kraus said.

"When the guy turned around the suspect realized it was mistaken identity and kind of gave a polite apology," Kraus said. "He said something to the effect of 'My bad' and let the guy go."

The gunman then returned to his vehicle and waited about five minutes before returning to the 400 block of Smithfield Street.

He "calmly" walked up to the victim, grabbed him, spun him around and began firing. When the victim fell to the ground, the gunman continued pumping bullets into him.

More than a dozen people ran to the victim's side once the gunman fled, gave first aid and called 911, Kraus said.

"We believe the suspect knew the victim, and knew he was going to be in that location at that time, and more or less the suspect was lying in wait for him," Kraus said. "It was an ambush. We don't know yet why the victim was in the area or where he was headed to."

The man on the pay phone did not call police after the suspect pulled the gun on him, but he was still in the area when the shooting occurred and stayed to talk to detectives.

Police collected video from four surveillance cameras outside businesses in the area and were reviewing the tapes this afternoon, Kraus said.

Strangrecki said the suspect is a muscular black man with dreadlocks and possibly a beard, and that he was wearing a long, dark-colored trench coat. He is about 6 feet tall and muscular, Kraus said.

"It's a miracle that we don't have more victims, considering how far that bullet traveled," Kraus said. "There was a high volume of people walking and driving by, going to work and children going to the day care center."

"Anytime you have a shooting in broad daylight in the Downtown area, it's troublesome," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who arrived at the scene shortly after 10 a.m. "We're fortunate it was just the one individual" injured.

Police closed Smithfield between Fourth and Forbes avenues, and roped off the sidewalk in front of VIP Styles and the Brightside Academy day care center.

A red coat lay crumpled on the sidewalk in front of the Apple Cookie and Chocolate Co.

Sarah Horn, of Brightside Academy, said the building was locked down this morning, and staff members were trying to go about business as usual. Horn said several children arriving at the day care center saw the victim on the ground, but as far as she knew, none of them witnessed the shooting.

"We're trying to just play happy music and just get our day going," Horn said. As of 9:30 a.m., there were about 90 children at the center. The center is seeking counselors for any children or parents who need it, Horn said.

The shooting -- just three days after the massacre at Virginia Tech -- prompted Point Park University officials to temporarily lock down several buildings on campus.

Gagan Bedi, 32, of Green Tree, who works at the Subway sandwich shop across the street, said he heard four or five gun shots at about 8:45 a.m. Bedi said he then saw a man wearing black running from the scene toward Fourth Avenue.

"You hear gunshots and look outside, you see a guy on the ground. I've been here for five years, I've never heard anything like this," Bedi said. "You hear and see fights, but never gunshots, especially in broad daylight."

Shawn Mersing, 36, of Mt. Oliver, was walking on the street near the shooting scene this morning. "I don't know how you think you're going to get away with it with all these witnesses here. I think it's crazy," Mersing said. "You never know when it's going to happen or where it's going to happen. If it can happen in the middle of Downtown, it can happen anywhere."

Police said the suspect drove away in a blue Subaru, with Pennsylvania license plate "GMC 0958." Kraus said the car was stolen last night in the city, but he declined to say where or if it was taken from a residence or elsewhere.

"It certainly is very bold," Strangrecki said. "We're hopeful someone out there has seen the shooting. We're hoping to bring this to a quick resolution."

Downtown shootings

April 8: Terrence Allen, 26, of Knoxville, is shot by city officers after he aimed his gun at them, police said. The incident happened about 6 p.m., on Wood Street between First Street and Fort Pitt Blvd. p.m. on Fifth Avenue, frightening the Downtown lunch crowd.

Feb. 22, 2006: Paris Henderson, 17, of Manchester and Montelle Edgerson, 14, are charged with shooting each other in an after-school incident at 4 p.m. near Sixth and Penn avenues. p.m. on Fifth Avenue, frightening the Downtown lunch crowd.

July 13, 2004: Arabo Allen, 22, is charged with shooting John Peters at 1 p.m. on Fifth Avenue, frightening the Downtown lunch crowd.

July 4, 2004: Two teenagers shoot at each other during a dispute at Point State Park at 9:10 p.m. just before Independence Day fireworks begin.

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