MILLVILLE — Neighbors say ‘that way’ and motion with an outstretched arm or a nod of their head down the block and just past the train tracks.
Some stop to talk, others just look at you in a silent declaration that you should keep moving. Every day in this neighborhood there is some kind of drama going on, say the people who stop to talk.
In the past week alone, multiple shootings and stabbings have been reported from within center city. At least two people have been shot, and others may have been. Homes have been hit by stray gunfire, and cars, too, often in broad daylight. Many crimes originate in the same center city neighborhood, the area between Third and Sixth streets and Broad and Main streets.
Residents here live every day with gang and drug violence. For many, the violence is something they have come to expect.
Pushing his 2-year-old daughter in a stroller with his girlfriend’s sister, Angel Rosario said there is always someone getting shot or stabbed.
“The only way it gets better is if you leave this place,” the 24-year-old said.
Just this past Monday afternoon, a couple of boys from another neighborhood showed up — always young guys, residents say — looking for a fight.
There was a brawl in the middle of the street. Shots were fired. A man was stabbed and airlifted to a regional hospital. Police tape cordoned off the street. Officers armed with assault rifles patrolled the streets for hours.
Millville resident Stephen Rambone was the stabbing victim from Monday’s altercation on the 400 block of Third Street, which residents say they know and police say they believe is both gang- and drug-related. The 23-year-old was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
About the altercation, which witnesses have said involved as many as 100 people in some capacity, Rambone, still in the hospital recuperating from a knife wound to his rib cage, said he doesn’t know a thing.
Late last Wednesday night, 37-year-old Jacqueline Downing and her 21-year-old son, Edward Holland, were shot in the thigh and arm, respectively, while sitting outside their home in the 600 block of East Mulberry Street. The victims were transported to South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
The following night, a home on East Oak Street was shot at several times in what police say was a retaliatory act. No one was injured.
In May, several incidents of gunfire were reported, including twice in the same area on the same day. Millville resident Willie Palmer was shot in the arm near Third and Oak streets on May 6 and treated for his injuries.
Broad Street resident Charles Hannah, 19, was arrested in late May and charged with several offenses, including attempted murder, after police said he opened fire on a woman and her passengers in her car on Foundry Street in the 3rd Ward.
LaSarah Todd said her brother, Palmer, was struck in the arm by a stray bullet walking the same streets she walks with her infant daughter.
“The violence out here is crazy,” she said, standing on the steps of her Third Street home. “They just fight and shoot for no reason. It scares me because I have a little daughter. It’s sad, you can’t get along with no one.”
Todd, 18, said she watched the fight from her second-floor window, called the police and waited for them to arrive.
In this neighborhood, some of the homes could have been considered historic at one point, with some 100-year-old Victorians. Most of the houses here are carved up now, sometimes into a half-dozen apartment units.
The neighborhood is just two blocks removed from the revitalized Glasstown Arts District on one side and a few blocks from a decent neighborhood with a higher rate of home ownership on the other.
Here, in this centralized location, where boarded-up windows, trash-strewn lawns and gang colors can frequently be seen, is where it happens. It’s where fights break out and people get shot, and where the police have trouble finding leads because no one is talking, mostly for fear of retribution from their neighbors.
The Police Department continues to investigate that and all other recent unsolved crimes in the area. One of the greatest challenges facing the department and its detectives, Lt. Les Watson said, is uncooperative witnesses.
“We experience that quite frequently,” he said. “People don’t want to get involved for fear of retaliation.”
Police regularly patrol the area — some residents complained that there isn’t enough of a police presence while others said there was too much — but response to crime in the area is mostly reactionary, leaving police only with the clues they find and little help from residents.
For now, Watson said, the department has stepped up patrols in the area.
Every year authorities talk about the rise in crime that accompanies warmer weather. Not only is it the end of the school year, but the hot weather drives people out of their homes and into the streets.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is preparing a study to identify areas where the numbers of crimes rise during the summer. According to Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, a plan will be developed to see if support can be provided to various municipalities based on need.
Following a shooting spree that took place following the 2008 New Year, the Millville Police Department enlisted the aid of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department and New Jersey State Police for a few months.
Watson said he doesn’t know if the center city violence this time around warrants a call for help just yet. The department is working on a strategy for the area, he said, though he declined to provide specifics.
Residents aren’t entirely sure what can be done. They recognize the problem, but many seemed resigned to living with it. People like Terrance Newman, 20, say the only thing you can do is keep to yourself, try to mind your own business.
As his two friends left, Newman stood out front of his Third Street home and said he could identify the problem.
“It’s the people, man. It’s the people.”
Contact Edward Van Embden: