Special Report: Caught in the Crossfire

Baihly Warfield
February 16, 2017 10:20 PM

Shootings have dominated local news in Duluth lately. There have been six in the past month; the last one was fatal.

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The surviving victims are traumatized. So are their families, friends and surrounding communities. They get caught in the crossfire. 

Brett Larson lives on the 2700 block of West 2nd Street in Lincoln Park. He was awoken in the early morning hours of Jan. 29. 

"My roommate said she heard gunshots and woke us up and came down here and looked, and there were cops blocking off the whole block," Larson said. 

He described the scene as chaotic. 

"There was a bunch of cops down there, there was a SWAT team, a bunch of crime scene vans," Larson said. 

Theresa Wanless witnessed a similar scene Tuesday on the 500 block of East 11th Street.

"It's very scary, especially having young children growing up in this neighborhood and then seeing all the police and this happening," Wanless said. 

With so much violence, sometimes close to people's homes, there is an unsettled feeling. 

"It kind of takes away your sense of security," Larson said. "You don't really feel quite as safe in your own home."

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said he understands the public's concerns. 

"Even if you're not involved in the shooting incident but you live in that community, that robs a little bit of your sense of security, safety and quality life in your neighborhood," Tusken said. 

The string of shootings has happened across Duluth. Here's a breakdown: 

Sunday, Jan. 21

Victim: 28-year-old male, shot in the stomach

Where: Outside the Lake Superior Bottle Shop on 1st Avenue East and 1st Street in downtown Duluth 

Arrests: Darius Handy has been arrested and charged with 2nd degree assault

Thursday, Jan. 26

Victim: 17-year-old male

Where: 7th Avenue East and 4th Street in East Hillside

Arrests: None made, police say they have a person of interest

Sunday, Jan. 29

Victim: 25-year-old male shot twice in the chest and once in the hand

Where: 2700 block of West 2nd Street in Lincoln Park

Arrests: Quentin Lake has been arrested and charged with 1st degree assault

Saturday, Feb. 4

Victim: 37-year-old male

Where: House party on the 100 block of 65th Avenue West in West Duluth

Arrests: None made

Sunday, Feb. 5

Victim: 19-year-old male

Where: On I-35 southbound between downtown Duluth and the Can of Worms

Arrests: Brandon Spence has been charged with 2nd degree assault and aid and abet drive-by shooting, Joseph Lamerand has been charged with aiding an offender, and Nicholas Lamerand has been charged with felon in possession of a firearm. 

Tuesday, Feb. 14

Victim: 22-year-old William Grahek was killed

Where: 510 E 11th St. In East Hillside

Arrests: None made

"It is very surprising to see something like this happen," Corey Cusick, who lives in East Hillside, said at the scene of Tuesday's homicide. 

Police have maintained the first five shootings were targeted, not random. Chief Tusken would not say whether this week's fatal shooting was random. The chief acknowledged, however, that the bullets go further than their mark both metaphorically and literally. In the West Duluth shooting, errant rounds hit a neighboring home. 

"They not only hurt another human being, but they also hurt a community," Tusken said. "Now we have people who are uninvolved that ended up being victimized."

And in a fatal shooting, the ripple effect spreads. 

"Surreal. Definitely surreal. Especially to go in this way," Max Miner, a friend of Will Grahek's, described his reaction to the news of Grahek's death. 

All of the friends and loved ones mourning Grahek are the collateral damage. 

"I hadn't seen him for a couple weeks," Connor Larson, a rugby teammate, said. "And not only was I stunned, but I didn't get a chance, a last chance to say goodbye, say hello, anything."

"The world just kind of got a little bit darker," Miner said. 

Any violence so close to home, fatal or not, is enough to make Brett Larson want to get out of the neighborhood. 

"It's definitely made me want to move," Larson said. "I don't really want to have any bullets flying towards my house. I mean, we're sleeping, and there's windows that we sleep next to, and we could get stuck in the middle of it pretty easily."

For others, the recent violence hasn't changed their outlook. A manager at the Lake Superior Bottle Shop, where the Jan. 21 shooting happened, said the shooting there has not affected business. 

Sharon Kangas owns The Red Door on East 4th Street, close to the Jan. 26 shooting. She saw the street was blocked the day of the incident, but didn't find out there was a shooting until the next morning. 

"I have been feeling safe here, I've been having wonderful customers coming in," Kangas said. 

Some residents in affected neighborhoods have echoed that feeling. 

"This neighborhood is pretty peaceful," Zachary Rusin, who lives in East Hillside, said. "I've lived here a few years now, and it's a good neighborhood."

Rusin said he's confident in local law enforcement's ability to keep Duluth safe. 

"Definitely trust the police department here in Duluth," Rusin said. 

Chief Mike Tusken said that if you see something, even if it seems trivial, to say something. He added that Duluth police have been working to prevent shootings by taking guns from people who should not have them. 

According to Tusken, in 2015, officers took 42 guns off the streets. In 2016, they doubled that with a total of 85 confiscated firearms. As of February 15 this year, Duluth Police have removed one firearm. 

"This all really comes back to, again, for me is that the proliferation of more accessibility of guns for people who shouldn't own them and who have a propensity for violence," Tusken said. 

Many feel the same way, that there may be a larger societal problem being felt in Duluth. 

"Gun violence here in the nation is obviously a very serious issue," Corey Cusick said. "And it's always really disheartening to see if affect a community like ours where it ought not be a problem because I think we're better than that."

Even if it is a greater issue, Cusick thinks changing it starts at home. 

"I'd like to see us do better as a community to make sure this type of thing isn't happening to begin with," Cusick said. 

Tusken said people can also participate in neighborhood watches or citizen patrols to help out. 


Baihly Warfield

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