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Man, 24, is shot to death in S. Boston

Witnesses said he tried to help threatened girl

Friends and neighbors gathered around a makeshift memorial for Alberto Duarte, 24, at the scene of yesterday's fatal shooting in South Boston.
Friends and neighbors gathered around a makeshift memorial for Alberto Duarte, 24, at the scene of yesterday's fatal shooting in South Boston. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

Alberto Duarte was a peacemaker, often stepping in to break up heated arguments, friends and relatives said. So when he saw a man slap and threaten to shoot a 17-year-old girl early yesterday at the Old Colony Housing Development in South Boston, he intervened, witnesses said.

Duarte, 24, walked up to the man who had slapped the girl, standing near 242 East 9th St., and told him and his several friends, ``If you want to shoot someone, then why don't you shoot me?" said the girl whom Duarte defended . (Her name is being withheld because she fears for her safety.)

According to the teenager and other witnesses, one of the men pulled out a large gray rifle. Duarte was shot four times, falling onto an asphalt -covered lot bordered by two large red-brick buildings, making him Boston's 47th victim of homicide this year and the first in South Boston .

``He died right in my hands," said Francisco Morales, 35, a resident of Old Colony. ``He didn't say anything. He was just trying to breathe. This was an ambush; it was some real malicious-style stuff."

Duarte, the father of two girls and a boy, the oldest of whom is 5, is the city's seventh slaying victim in the past nine days, setting a pace to eclipse last year's 75 homicides, the highest in a decade. Through July 27, 2005, there were 41 homicides. Police have not made any arrests in five of the homicides committed since July 19, but appear to have a suspect in the South Boston case.

The girl whom Duarte defended -- found yesterday inside her mother's sparse second-floor apartment, a green candle and cellphone on her lap -- said she had seen at least one of the suspects in the development in the past month. She acknowledged that after she was slapped, she retrieved a kitchen knife, and as the gunmen threatened to shoot her, Duarte stepped in. He was fatally shot about 12:34 a.m., police said.

Dozens of residents poured out to the site where Duarte was shot, setting up yet another makeshift memorial, the kind city councilors are debating setting time limits for.

Approximately 40 people, including two of Duarte's brothers and other family members and close friends, formed a large circle around the newest memorial, held hands, and prayed. After the prayer, Morales took a step forward and called the gunman a coward.

At least a half-dozen police officers stood nearby as a stream of mourners visited the memorial. Police cordoned off the scene for about an hour when several bullet casings were discovered near the memorial.

``My brother didn't look for trouble from anyone," said one of Duarte's brothers, requesting that his name not be used. ``He worked two jobs. He drove handicapped people around in the morning, and he cared for our grandmother during the rest of the day. He saved up money for two years to buy a car, and yesterday he paid cash for an Acura Integra. He didn't even have a day to enjoy his car."

Boston Housing Authority Deputy Director Bill McGonagle said that up to four street workers and several trauma counselors were dispatched to Old Colony yesterday afternoon and that the family of the victim and the 17-year-old girl will be moved to public housing elsewhere.

After a press conference at police headquarters, in which he pushed for new ballistics technology that could make matching guns to shootings easier, Mayor Thomas M. Menino addressed the recent rise in homicides.

``This is very disturbing to me and the Police Department," he said. ``I walked some of these neighborhoods in the last couple of days with [Acting] Commissioner [Albert] Goslin. Police can't do it alone. What's the answer? That's tough for me to say. Some of these young kids don't understand death."

With the new technology, the firing pins inside firearms would contain the weapon's serial number, which would be transferred to the cartridge case whenever the firearm is shot, making it easier to trace ballistic evidence to a gun, said Todd Lizotte, a businessman from Londonderry, N.H., who developed the technology and attended the press conference.

Goslin said that having better ballistics technology could help police solve shootings.

``I went to the scene of a shooting several nights ago, and there was ballistics evidence everywhere," he said, ``but there were about 12 people who had been in close proximity to the shooting, and they all said they hadn't seen anything."

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