The man who witnessed Stephen Pitcairn's last breaths was too afraid to give his name. Hours after the stabbing late Sunday, he stood where he found the victim lying face down on St. Paul Street, the pavement still stained even though the blood had been washed away.
A lone blue surgical glove lay in the gutter. Twenty feet away, blood had pooled in a crevice, mixing with leaves and covering an empty potato chip bag. The man who held Pitcairn's hand covered his mouth and said he was seeking help for himself from his parish priest.
"There was so much blood," he said.
Charles Village is one of those places people think of when they hear the cliche that crime "isn't supposed to happen here." Residents pay extra taxes to a benefits district to have access to services beyond what the city provides — more frequent street cleaning and extra safety patrols.
This is a community known for garden clubs that once held contests for best porch, best door and best railing. It's a mix of college students and their professors, young couples starting out and more established families who enjoy the vibrancy of a bustling city.
Now it is a community in fear.
Charles Village is certainly not immune from crime. There have been two killings this year in the central part of the community — Sunday's attack and the March shooting death a block away of a gang leader behind an elementary school. There have been four other slayings on the periphery of the benefits district, which extends up into Waverly.
A typical weekly crime report published this month from Charles Village contains three burglaries, two armed robberies and a stolen car. Throw in another week and there's a stolen bicycle, a rape, two more burglaries and another two armed robberies.
And just last month, cops raided an empty St. Paul Street apartment three blocks from the stabbing scene and found a 20-ton hydraulic compressor used to shape kilos of cocaine into ready-to-ship bricks.
The compressor seizure drew chuckles, and the gang killing unnerved police but hardly shook residents, who dismissed those crimes as unlikely to affect them.
But Sunday night's stabbing is different. It was a random attack that could happen to anybody — the victim was killed performing the most routine of activities on one of the city's longest and busiest thoroughfares.
It's this kind of attack that residents and police fear the most; the kind that makes people feel most vulnerable. And it's this kind of attack that can't be ameliorated by officials saying that crime is down.
Even though slayings are at 30-year lows, the perception remains that crime is out of control, and now there's the death of Stephen Pitcairn to prove it.
David T. Hill, the executive director of the benefits district, which has a budget of more than $680,000, doesn't mince words. He won't try to reassure people that they're safer, even if the stats show that they are.
"Everyone is concerned because we've had a spate of very serious crimes," Hill said. "To be quite honest, I'm going to say what I shouldn't say. … I don't know how to reconcile that. I'm not an expert on crime, and I think I'm as baffled as anyone.
"This is a great community and it's been judged that way nationally," he said. "Then for something like this to happen, it's deflating, to say the least."
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