A dispute between members of two city street gangs may have led to the shootings that killed four people at a downtown restaurant over the weekend, reliable sources told The Buffalo News today.
And according to a prominent East Side pastor, police have been searching the city for one suspect -- a young man reportedly affiliated with a gang -- for more than 24 hours.
"I know the police have been searching for this young man, and I am trying through intermediaries to get him to turn himself in," said the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church. "I want to help this young man to turn himself in to the police, and I'm willing to help him in any way I can.
"I want him to turn himself in, because I know there are other people searching for him who are very, very upset about these shootings, and he could be in serious danger."
Pridgen declined to identify the young man by name. He said he has heard that the man is affiliated with a city street gang, but the pastor declined to name the gang.
Two law enforcement officials also told The Buffalo News today that police are searching intently for one man in connection with the Saturday morning spree outside the City Grill, a restaurant on downtown Main Street.
Although Buffalo Police Department spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge declined to comment on the gang issue, two law enforcement officials and a community leader -- both with close ties to the City Grill murder probe -- told The News the shootings occurred after a dispute between members of two gang arose in the restaurant.
Several members of one city gang were invited guests at a party inside the Main Street restaurant, and several members of another gang tried to get in but were not allowed inside, the sources said. That touched off an argument and a fist fight, and later, a disgruntled member of the gang that was not allowed inside went out and got a gun.
"That is what caused this shooting, and in fact, there have been several shootings in the city within the last three or four days, all related to gangs," the law enforcement official said.
Police, so far, have declined to speculate on what fueled the shootings, and DeGeorge declined to comment today on the gang speculation.
Meanwhile, other top city officials this morning were publicly saying that police are making progress in the shooting probe, but that they need witnesses to the crime to come forward and cooperate with detectives.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda would not provide specifics about the investigation. Derenda declined to comment on any motive for the shooting and also said police are not releasing to the public any surveillance video footage that may show the shooter.
"We don't believe it's in the best interests of the investigation at this time," Derenda said at the news conference held late this morning in City Hall.
Brown and Derenda said the city will accept offers of assistance that have come from the governor's office and the local offices of the United States Attorney, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
They said the Police Department already had boosted the number of officers patrolling the downtown business district and they have a plan in the works to further boost public safety there and elsewhere in the city.
"We want the public to know that our Police Department is doing everything that it can to follow up on every lead to continue to work around the clock to get these criminals off the streets of our city," Brown said, referring to the City Grill shooting and two other fatal shootings that occurred later this past weekend.
Brown said the city's request to pastors at Buffalo churches to urge their congregations at Sunday's services to contact police with any information they have is paying off, but more help is needed.
"We know that there were a large number of people that were there. There were a large number of people that witnessed the event. We are appealing to you. We are appealing to you to come forward and share what you know," the mayor said.
Derenda would not provide many details into the investigation.
He would not comment on a possible motive, he would not elaborate on what happened inside City Grill in the moments before the shooting, and he would not say whether police believe the other fatal shootings from this weekend were related to the City Grill shooting.
He also wouldn't say whether he believe the shooter was ever inside City Grill that night, nor whether he believes the gunman is still in town.
Derenda said investigators have not talked to Keith D. Johnson since murder charges against him were dropped Sunday morning. Johnson continues to be held on a parole violation.
"He has been less than truthful in his statements to detectives," Derenda said. "Hopefully, he will have a change of heart."
Derenda said a reward for information leading to an arrest in the City Grill shooting could be announced soon.
The shooting occurred sometime after 2:30 a.m. Saturday outside City Grill, 268 Main St., which was the site of several parties that evening and had been filled with as many as 200 people.
Four people were killed: Danyell Mackin, 30; Tiffany Wilhite, 32; Shawn-Tia McNeil, 27; and Willie McCaa III, 26.
Brown and Derenda said police already had increased patrols in the downtown area and said further details on a public-safety plan will be announced soon.
"We feel our city is safe," Brown said, saying the City Grill shooting is a reflection of increased gun violence across the country.
Brown also said it's his understanding that City Grill is opening today, and he encouraged the restaurant to do so.
"There's no reason for them not to open. Business must move on and must move forward in our community," Brown said....