The 17-year-old boy who was gunned down while standing outside a Dorchester pizza restaurant Friday afternoon was probably the victim of gang violence, a Boston police investigator said yesterday.
''I don't think it was random," said the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ''We suspect gang activity."
The victim, Gerald Burgan Jr., was shot at close range by a youth who approached him on a bicycle, said a witness who works in the immediate area and whose name is being withheld by the Globe. A passerby, 15-year-old Samantha Lindsey, said she was across the street from Burgan when he was shot.
''There were five shots," she said. ''Three of them went past me." She said she did not see the shooter.
Burgan was not a troublemaker, said his distraught father, who spoke with a reporter outside the family's home in government-subsidized apartments along Franklin Hill Avenue. But trouble often came calling in the neighborhood where he lived.
The elder Burgan said he had to pull his son out of Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester after he was threatened by a group of other students. The father said that after Boston school officials refused to let his son enroll at Hyde Park High School, which he considered safer, his son dropped out of school in his sophomore year.
''He was happy, but he was talking about this neighborhood and how rough it is," the elder Burgan said. ''A couple of his friends got shot and locked up."
His son had been on probation, the father said, after he won a fight with youths who attacked him while he walked down Columbia Road with a girlfriend. ''He was good with his fists," the father said, with a faint smile.
Burgan was killed at the intersection of Washington Street and Erie Street, several blocks from his family's Franklin Hill residence.
After another youth, William Saladin, was fatally shot inside the Franklin Hill housing development about a month ago, a police source told the Globe that Saladin's death was a sign that a long-running feud between youths from the Franklin Hill development and the nearby Franklin Field projects had been rekindled.
Less than a week after Saladin was killed, three men were shot as they sat on a minivan on Floyd Street, within two blocks of Franklin Field.
Sergeant Detective Robert Merner, who was a founding member of Boston's Youth Violence Strike Force and now works in Roxbury, spoke to the Globe last week about the gang problem plaguing the city.
''The gangs are geography-based, and feuds will come up over a girl or something that shouldn't lead to a shooting," Merner said.
Traveling even just a mile from one's home can be dangerous in some areas, Merner said.
In August, around the block from the corner where Burgan was gunned down, 15-year-old Jaime Owens was shot while she sat on a park bench and waited for a pizza to be delivered. A basketball court a block away from the pizzeria is home to a makeshift shrine in honor of 16-year-old Harlan Harris, who was shot dead this spring outside a Dorchester party. A pink teddy bear, a black bandanna, and spent candles litter the sidewalk below a white cloth across which ''Only the Good Die Young" was written.
Much of the street violence in Boston stems from loose affiliations of young men who cluster according to what block or housing development they're from and battle youths from competing turf, usually over trivialities.
''You may have had an argument with one person, but word goes out to so many other people," Imani Smith, a caseworker with the Department of Youth Services who specializes in outreach to gang members and other young offenders, said in an interview last week. ''Your beef is my beef."
A street tactic called a ''beat on sight" demonstrates the principle perfectly, Smith said, because it shows how even youths peripheral to the hard-core gang members can be punished for living on the wrong block.
''Sometimes you'll read on the news that kids are assaulted by kids they don't know," Smith said. ''He's in a group, and if you see anyone affiliated with him you must do a beat on sight."
For Gerald Burgan, his son's killing boils down to something much simpler. ''The way I look at it is, out here in this neighborhood, this area, Dorchester, anything can happen to anyone," he said.
''Over here some guys got killed," Burgan says, pointing in one direction, ''and over there some guys got killed."
The Burgan family was homeless and spent three years living in shelters before finally moving to Franklin Hill Avenue recently, the elder Burgan said.
But having a home isn't so comforting if it's in the middle of a battlefield. ''If I could move out, I would," Burgan said.
Suzanne Smalley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.