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Brothers' deaths mark 10th, 11th homicides in county in July

| Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two brothers struck down early Tuesday in Penn Hills became the 10th and 11th homicide victims this month in Allegheny County and the latest in a wave of killings sweeping through the city's East End and neighboring communities.

Investigators were not certain whether the slayings of Shawn Houser, 34, of Erie and Jaison Houser, 27, of Penn Hills are an example of city violence spilling into surrounding areas.

County police Lt. Bill Palmer said authorities don't know who shot the Housers -- or why -- at about 2:30 a.m. inside a sport utility vehicle on Graham Boulevard near Frankstown Avenue after the two left a nearby bar. The residential neighborhood is not known for violence, Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said.

Jaison Houser died in the vehicle, Palmer said. Shawn Houser collapsed in the street and died a short time later in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, authorities said.

Family members declined comment.

"I knew both these young men very well," said Darrel Holloway, manager at the Liquid Lounge on Verona Street, where the brothers spent their last hours.

One of the brothers would jokingly hassle him about paying the $10 cover charge on Monday nights, but paid it, Holloway said.

He said neither of the Housers ever caused problems in the bar, including Monday night.

"For whatever reason they got killed, it was senseless. When something like that happens, it's just a real bad thing for the community."

The slayings come as the city of Pittsburgh begins a crackdown on gang-related violence.

The Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime began last week. For some nearby suburban communities, the question is whether the crackdown will force gang activity beyond city limits.

City police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said the recent killings in East End communities don't appear to be connected.

One occurred during a home invasion in which masked men were searching for drugs and money. Two men were killed during an apparent carjacking gone bad. Police haven't determined motives for several other killings.

Burton said most homicides in Penn Hills, the county's second-largest municipality, are "heat of the moment" incidents.

"Penn Hills is a safe community, and the drug dealers know it," Burton said. "They live out here, and they may get their shipments here, but then they go into the city and do their dealing. If a deal goes bad, a lot of times, the folks come after them here because they know where they live."

But the neighborhoods where Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh meet -- a short distance from the scene of the Housers' slayings -- can be particularly volatile, Burton said.

"The criminals don't go by boundary lines. They shoot wherever they have to shoot."

On Monday, city police Chief Nate Harper said police would target "hot spots" including Homewood, East Liberty and Garfield to combat the rising violence.

"When we combat a crime-ridden neighborhood with more police presence, on many occasions we just move the problem to a different area," city police Lt. Daniel Herrmann said. "If you're targeting a specific area for a long period of time, a lot of times you'll just move the problem. In turn, when you realign your officers, your problem comes back."

Yet, Herrmann and Burton don't believe these newest saturation patrols will push violence across city lines.

"I don't anticipate an influx of crime coming in, even though (Tuesday's) shooting was only a quarter-mile from the city," Burton said. "It's not like they're planned."

Five homicides occurred in McKees Rocks between 2006 and 2008, and one occurred last year, but Palmer said more shootings are occurring in the borough and neighboring Stowe.

"We're making arrests at neighborhood bars of people who aren't from the neighborhood," said McKees Rocks police Chief Robert Cifrulak. "It's not striking numbers, but it's just curious. We're seeing more people from the city of Pittsburgh involved in criminal activity here."

The influx of city residents in McKees Rocks could be attributed to Pittsburgh's demolition of public housing, said Cifrulak and Richard Garland, director of One Vision One Life, a county-sponsored violence intervention group. Cifrulak said problems increased after bars in Pittsburgh's Esplen and Sheraden neighborhoods closed.

Staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed to this story.

Additional Information:

July slayings

Since Jan. 1, there have been 47 homicides in Allegheny County, 30 of them in Pittsburgh.

Eleven slayings have occurred this month:

July 5: Anthony Griffin, 32, of Hazelwood was shot on Monongahela Street.

July 6: Eliseo Palma, 28, of Brookline died after a June 23 beating.

July 7: Ben D. Lewis, 44, of Sheraden was shot at home.

July 7: Lauren Deis, 14, of East Liberty was fatally stabbed in a Sheraden home.

July 8: Jermaine Palmer Jr., 19, of Homewood was shot while driving in Homewood.

July 11: Anika Hainesworth, 24, was shot during a gun battle between police and three masked men who broke into her East Hills apartment looking for drugs and money.

July 18: LaJuane Pendleton, 30, of the North Side was shot in Garfield.

July 19: Daniel Hawkins and Diontre Dean, both 17 and of East Liberty, were shot after police said they apparently tried to carjack someone.

July 20: Brothers Shawn and Jaison Houser were shot to death while stopped at a red light in Penn Hills.

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