A conflict between white and Asian teenagers in South Boston had been escalating for two weeks before reaching a brawling climax Sunday, according to two participants and a witness to the deadly melee.
At least two assaults had stirred bad blood before the groups confronted each other in the Mary Ellen McCormack housing development off Old Colony Avenue, the teenagers said. There, with single combatants selected from each group, a one-on-one fistfight quickly degenerated into a bloody free-for-all, according to the witnesses.
When the fighting stopped and police arrived, Bang Mai, 16, of Medford, lay fatally injured near a basketball court in the development, authorities said. He was pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center from trauma and a stab wound after he was found bleeding from the head, mouth, and chest, police said.
No arrest had been made in Mai's death by yesterday evening. However, a South Boston youth was charged with beating another teenager with a baseball bat in the fight. According to police reports, John Nguyen, 14, of East Boston, was hit in the knee by Mark Brennick, 17.
Brennick was arraigned in South Boston District Court yesterday and held on $10,000 cash bail.
As police investigated the killing, startled youth workers struggled to ease the tension.
''This came out of the blue," said Emmett Folgert, a Dorchester Youth Collaborative counselor who met yesterday with teenagers who knew the victim. ''I don't get it."
Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said yesterday that the McCormack development has been peaceful of late, more so than some of the other developments in the city. As a result, Sunday's events were a surprise to residents and authorities.
O'Toole said it is too early to conclude whether the fighting was a hate crime ''or just a brawl between two groups of kids."
The killing is being investigated by homicide detectives, as well as the Community Disorders Unit, which investigates hate crimes, said police spokeswoman Beverly Ford.
O'Toole said some of the youths involved were Vietnamese. The witnesses from South Boston did not specify a nationality.
Folgert said the Asian teenagers, who he said were probably primarily from Dorchester, are not part of an organized gang. Most were drawn to the fight, he said, to support friends who had been harassed, threatened, and attacked.
Kaitlyn Shea, a teenager who said she witnessed the fight, said word had swept through the development Sunday that the two sides would meet for a fistfight refereed by a neutral party, who would ensure that none of the combatants carried weapons.
''I wanted to go see a fistfight," said Shea, who lives in the McCormack development. ''It was supposed to be an up-and-up fight. There were Asian and white kids standing together."
According to Shea, the fight began as planned for a few minutes, as Daniel P. Megquier, a 15-year-old former McCormack resident who is white, fought with two Asian teenagers one by one.
With dozens of youths in a circle, Shea said, Megquier fought one teenager until he quit. A second teenager stepped in and began fighting with Megquier. After the second teenager dropped out, Shea said, a third youth jumped on Megquier, and the brawl began.
Megquier said yesterday that he covered up as he was kicked repeatedly by several people. At the sound of police sirens, said, his attackers fled as Megquier struggled to his feet. Nearby, he saw Mai lying motionless.
''There were Asian and white kids standing next to each other at the beginning, but then it went bad," Shea said. ''Then they all met in the middle. I felt like I was in a war zone."
After the brawl, Shea said, she saw Mai bleeding on the ground.
''He was pouring blood out of his nose," Shea said. ''You could see he was fighting for his life."
Megquier said he entered the fight because a 13-year-old male friend had been attacked with a lead pipe Saturday by a group of Asians. However, a police report on the incident does not include reference to a lead-pipe attack.
''I fought them because there is no point in fighting a 13-year-old," Megquier said. ''These kids are 15, 16 years old."
According to the youths who witnessed the brawl, the melee had its origins in two beatings within the last two weeks. In one, a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl allegedly was assaulted by white females, the youths said. In the other, a 13-year-old white South Boston girl allegedly was beaten by Asian males.
On Saturday evening, Megquier's friend from Quincy was chased by a large crowd into the McCormack development, as police arrested two alleged trespassers in an unrelated incident, according to the police report, which did not identify the race of the pursuers.
After police ordered the crowd to disperse, Nguyen Bao, 16, of East Boston, was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct when he shouted at the Quincy youth, ''Come on, I'll . . . kill you right now," according to the police report.
The Sunday brawl occurred at almost the same spot.
Boston Housing Authority spokeswoman Lydia Agro said the authority's staff and BHA police were unaware of the escalating tension.
''There was no indication to the staff at the development that this was coming. Nothing," Agro said. ''If there was something going on between the kids; they were not talking about it to anybody."
Agro said the BHA has not had any youth workers since 2001, when a federal grant to finance those efforts was terminated.