Heads bowed, they stood over the spot where Nathan Hampton took a fatal bullet to the chest the day before.
But where onlookers saw a group of mourners gathering to grieve and heal, a gunman saw something else: an easy target.
Police say a suspect opened fire on the group standing around a makeshift memorial at Minneapolis North Commons Park last month as bystanders ran for cover. Among those fleeing the gunfire was a Fox 9 news crew, which happened to be there interviewing the organizers of a community gathering where Hampton was gunned down.
No one was hit, but the incident still left police and community leaders with the aftermath of what has become numbingly familiar in some neighborhoods: shooters targeting memorials and funerals of suspected gang-violence victims.
Worried about the potential for follow-up attacks after Hamptons slaying, Minneapolis police Cmdr. Charlie Adams said he sent a police SUV to cruise the area that Monday, before the gunfire began.
My main focus was to make sure that the community was going to be safe, and to make sure that nothing happened, said Adams, head of the Police Departments division of community and collaborative advancement, who coached Hampton, 19, for several years in football at North Community High School. All the friends and family understandably go out there, and thats the opportunity for others to come down and shoot bullets at people.
At a vigil held later that evening, two squad cars were parked nearby to try to ward off further violence, he said. Meanwhile, the TV news crew moved its interview to the lawn of a nearby police station.
Hampton was fatally shot last month in a crowded park in north Minneapolis Willard-Hay neighborhood as he and friends watched a kickball game. Hundreds of people were nearby when someone walked up to him and shot him in the chest. He was taken to North Memorial Health Hospital, where he later died.
Police arent ruling out the possibility that the brazen slaying was linked to a long-running dispute between rival North Side gangs, which has flared up in recent weeks.
Family members remembered Hampton as a friendly, responsible young man who had briefly moved to North Dakota to chase his dream of playing college football.
As of Friday, no arrests had been made in either Hamptons slaying or the subsequent shooting.
Anniversaries a target
Anniversary memorials are also marred by violence, police and community leaders say.
In 2014, two Low End gang members were shot while parked outside a Dennys restaurant in Brooklyn Park on the anniversary of the death of Tyrone Ty Crack Washington, a gang leader who was gunned down in a downtown nightclub.
According to court filings, their shooter approached the mens vehicle and fired about 14 shots inside, striking both victims several times. The men had about $9,000 cash on them at the time, but detectives later ruled out robbery as a motive for the shooting, the filings said.
Two years later, a group of gang members were shot near Newton and 16th avenues N. while gathering for a memorial for Dacari Pudda Loc Starr, who was killed on the same day on the same block six years before. Police say several members of a rival gang crept up on the mourners and started firing, leaving eight people hit and 60 bullet casings littering the street. Detectives have since linked the episode to 40 other shootings and eight homicides.
Some people refuse to attend public vigils, out of fear of putting themselves in the path of a bullet, said Mike Martin, a former Fourth Precinct police commander on the North Side and an authority on gang activity. Shooters count on the victims friends and relatives, possibly gang members themselves, letting their guard down.
It creates an opportunity for the rivals to find them all concentrated in one area, said Martin.
K.G. Wilson, a street outreach worker who helps organize vigils for people killed in street violence, said such attacks are often about settling old beefs, some dating back years and which may have had nothing to do with the victim.
They feel like, OK, these people are out here, and now this is a good time to go and vent out our anger,andthinsp; Wilson said. I dont know for sure that they want to all the time shoot somebody, but I do know that they want to send a message that, We havent forgotten, its not over, and that were not in support of what youre doing, whether its a vigil, a memorial or a funeral.andthinsp;
After a vigil Wilson helped organize was shot up in 2010, he started inviting police to such gatherings. Still, as Mondays shooting showed, having extra officers around is no guarantee against further violence, he said.
Fourth Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard said gang members frequently return to the scene of violence on the anniversary of a friends death. He said he will usually dispatch a squad or two to those vigils to keep an eye on things.
I have several gang memorials every year where I sort of put a marker on it, said Biard. Its actually in my head, because I know where theyre all at and the dates.
Biard said he also sees how an increased police presence could seem intimidating to vigilgoers.
We try to be sensitive to the fact that at the end of the day its still a human being that lost their lives, despite what their affiliations are, he said.
Libor Jany 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany