Year-in-Review: 2019 Began and Ended with Fears Over Gang Gun Violence in Haverhill

Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro addresses the School Committee on active shooter safety protocols during the Sept.14 meeting alongside Haverhill Police Officer Scott Ziminski. (WHAV News file photograph.)

When it comes to gangs, Haverhill’s year ended as it began with fear over gun violence from two rival gangs.

At the end of 2018, Mayor James J. Fiorentini acknowledged the city’s gang problem—which turned into a gun war two years earlier after a Swasey Field shooting—by saying he was “hopeful” the crime rate can improve.

In February, Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro told city councilors of his department’s plan to combat gang-related violence. He said, however, one of the challenges is when shooting victims—most of whom belong to a gang—refuse to come forward to police.

“When they’re shot, they don’t cooperate with us. A lot of times, they will tell us absolutely nothing because they want to handle it themselves,” the chief said.

Two months later, Gov. Charlie Baker joined local and state officials to receive a progress report on UTEC’s anti-gang violence program that was spurred by the shooting death of 20-year-old Nike Colon a year before. The meeting, taking place about a month before UTEC’s formal opening at 241 Winter St., Haverhill, provided insight into how the Lowell-based organization engages gang members. UTEC entered Haverhill with a $682,000 state grant.

After a relatively quiet summer, September brought more gang gun violence. Eighteen-year-old self-described gang member, Brian Grande, was arrested after a Mount Washington shooting Sept.15. While there were no injuries, police recovered nine spent shell casings and said a home at 65 Jackson St. Ext. was hit once in a second-floor window, while 69 Jackson St. Extension was hit three times. Grande bragged about having his gun out in broad daylight and told a Haverhill Police officer involved in arresting him that he wished he turned the gun on that officer instead.

An apparently well-intentioned effort that month by a UTEC streetworker to swap real guns for paintball guns backfired. Police arrested Eric J. Cruz after reports of paintball damage on North Street.

Haverhill Police became aware of gang efforts to recruit minors as triggermen since the younger men are less likely to face jail time. Such an incident was alleged to have occurred when, police said, Methuen’s Edison Manzueta recruited a 16-year-old to shoot a man in the face Oct. 13, again in the Mount Washington neighborhood. The 21-year-old victim’s jaw was shattered in three places. Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo told Haverhill District Court Judge Patricia Dowling the injuries were “horrific.”

At the end of October, 23-year-old Mario Acosta was arrested and charged with trying to “gun down” a Haverhill couple in what may have been a case of mistaken identity. He was charged with firing “multiple shots” in the area of 294 Washington St. No injuries were reported.

The year ended with two brothers accused of trying to shoot a rival gang member at the same address as September’s attempt. Twenty-year-old Aidan Z. Rodriguez and his 18-year-old brother, Isaac R. Rodriguez were charged with the crime. Court documents revealed Aidan Rodriguez is employed by UTEC as a cook. The older brother was charged with two counts of assault with intent to murder, carrying a firearm without an identification card and carrying a firearm without a license. The younger one was charged with discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, carrying a loaded firearm without a license and malicious destruction of property. Both have been identified by Lawrence Police as members of one gang.

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