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Mattapan Man Shot, Killed Near Campus

By Brian Loux

NEWS EDITOR

Nineteen-year-old Mattapan resident Iran Gray was fatally shot outside the Rhythm and Spice bar and nightclub on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge at approximately 1:45 a.m. Friday morning.

The case is still being investigated by Cambridge Police and State Police from Middlesex county, said the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.

The cause of the shooting remains unclear. Robert D. Jones ’86, president of Rhythm and Spice, interviewed staff members on duty that night. Jones said “based on what we know, the event had nothing to do with any activities in Rhythm and Spice.” Jones said that 15 minutes prior to the shooting, there was a minor altercation inside the club, allegedly over a woman. “Employees determined who started the fight and ejected one of the two quarreling parties,” he said. In a press release issued later, Jones said that Gray was never in Rhythm and Spice that night.

However, witnesses who were also interviewed by Cambridge Police placed Gray in the party ejected from the bar. “I heard shouts and saw a large group that had just left Rhythm and Spice,” said a local employee. Officer Frank Pasquarello, public information officer for Cambridge Police, said that the matter was still under investigation.

The employee said that the argument continued, and one man pulled a gun. He then apparently approached Gray, who sat in the driver’s side backseat of a car, and shot him in the throat. Witnesses say they heard around five or six gunshots. “There were first two shots, a pause, and then more came very quickly,” said the local employee. One stray bullet hit a window. The assailant apparently fired the gun so close to Gray that he did not shoot out any car windows.

Students hear shots, see suspect

Random Hall resident Jenna N. Matheny ’05, who awoke to the sounds outside Rhythm and Spice, saw the suspect run down Front Street between the MIT Museum and Cambridge Bicycle. “I initially thought they couldn’t be gunshots,” she said, “but then I saw a large group in front of Rhythm and Spice and the car.”

The Cambridge Police arrived first on the scene, with State Police soon to follow, between 30 seconds and two minutes after the shots, witnesses said. As the police arrived, one witness said Gray stumbled out of the car and laid down in the street. Soon after the police arrived, two patrol cars sped off towards Boston in search of the gunman, said Random Hall resident Jillian L. Dempsey ’05.

MIT Campus Police arrived at 1:51 a.m., according to the police incident log. CPs assisted in crowd control and blocked off the corner of Landsdowne Street and Massachusetts Avenue to protect the integrity of the crime scene, said MIT Chief of Campus Police John DiFava. At this point, witnesses estimate at least a dozen patrol cars from MIT, Cambridge, and State Police were at the scene.

Dempsey said that at around 2:00, an ambulance from the Cambridge Fire Department arrived. Shortly thereafter, 20 to 30 customers that had exited Rhythm and Spice began to quarrel on the sidewalk. “This fight appeared to be between friends [of Gray] and people from the other group,” Pasquarello said. “It was a push and shove incident and bottles were thrown, but the police broke it up very quickly.”

Almost immediately after the fight was dispersed, a professional ambulance arrived on the scene, Dempsey said. Witnesses said the ambulance stayed at the scene over 10 minutes after placing Gray on a stretcher. “It was pretty obvious that the man was already dead. There was no need to go to the hospital,” one witness said.

Gray was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital and soon pronounced dead, according to the District Attorney’s office. In the morning, the scene looked the same as any other day, Dempsey said. “It was dead and silent. The only thing I noticed was that you couldn’t park on the street,” she said.

Pasquarello says that the detectives have gathered “information that led up to the shooting” and had promising ballistics information from the stray bullet across the street. Though most clues tend to be found in the first six hours of investigation, Pasquarello said, he was not worried about the case running dry. “We have to check and recheck witnesses and stories to figure out what happened,” he said.

MIT, area still seen as safe

The shooting came as a shock to many area residents and employees of local businesses. While a shooting occurred in November 2000 across the street at the Cambridge Port Saloon, many still find the area as one of the safest around.

“It is usually a safe area,” said All Asia employee Patty Chen. “It is much better in comparison to others nearby that sell drugs on the corner.”

“I’ve been in Cambridge for 20 years, and it’s a very safe area,” Jones said. “It’s an urban area, so anything can happen. But it is definitely safe.”

“Massachusetts Avenue is heavily trafficked throughout the day,” said Nina J. Davis-Millis, Random Hall housemaster. “Because of its visibility, I feel safer here than in a more isolated place. I felt more nervous walking down Memorial Drive [when I lived in Westgate].”

Prefrosh shaken by shooting

A number of the prospective freshmen who learned of the incident were upset, and at least two prefrosh did not stay at Random Hall afterward. Another asked that nobody discuss the incident with her parents, fearing they would not allow her to live in Random Hall.

“[Our prefrosh] was very nervous about the incident when she returned to the house,” Matheny said. “Her mother had her move to another dorm. Though I’m not sure whether it changed her thoughts about coming to MIT, she definitely had second thoughts about living in Random Hall.”

Very few, however, felt the incident deterred them from selecting MIT as their college. “Near Arizona State, my other choice, there has been stuff like that in the past,” said prospective freshman Sean Naber. “While I’ve been on campus, I’ve always seen a police presence.” Of the freshmen interviewed, many ranked the surrounding environment and security as important factors in their selection process. “You can’t ignore any factor, but then you can’t treat them as absolutes, either,” said Jeremy B. Jacox. “That happens in any big city, and in comparison [Cambridge] seems pretty calm.”

Students among victims in past

The issue raises concern over the threat of violent crime on or near campus. In 1992, Yngve K. Raustein ’94 was murdered by two local youths and in 1995, a Northeastern University student was shot (though not killed) outside a party in Walker Memorial. There have been at least five other violent incidents that occurred around on the MIT campus in the past 10 years.

“It’s an open campus, and you may have spillage. It’s always an issue,” DiFava said. “People must always be conscious because it’s an urban area like Boston University and Northeastern.”

DiFava said he felt the campus was “an extremely safe place,” and that he is proud to have pushed for more police presence on campus and two additional traffic units that patrol the garages and lots of the MIT campus. “I believe it will make people feel safer on campus,” he said.

“Chief DiFava has done a great job,” said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. “It has been the great effort of our Campus’s Police and the diligence of the student body that makes this environment a safe one.”

Residents in some areas of campus have always taken certain precautions. “We encourage students to walk with a friend and use Safe Ride whenever possible,” Davis-Millis said.

“It is ultimately up to students to maintain vigilance when wandering the streets of Boston and Cambridge late at night,” Benedict said.

Most students tend to only have slight anxiety about their safety on campus. “I try not to walk back too late at night, but at other times of the day I feel just fine,” Dempsey said. “I would walk home just as fast if I lived elsewhere on campus.”