Wednesday, July 24, 2024

A resident asks a question Thursday at a Cambridge Street Upper School meeting about a May 23 shooting incident. Victim Aleyana Pina is at left. (Photo: Marc Levy)

While Cambridge police continue to pursue arrests in a May 23 shooting at Donnelly Field, attention has shifted to the woman caught in the crossfire.

After being shot twice in the leg as a dispute interrupting a night basketball game turned violent, Cantabrigian Aleyana Pina, 22, can’t report to her part-time jobs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy – her own elementary alma mater – and with the after-school program at the Cambridgeport School, city councillor Burhan Azeem said in support of a crowdfunding campaign for Pina.

She faces a long recovery, Azeem said.

“This summer, she had planned to continue her work at the Cambridgeport Community School’s summer program. Due to her part-time status, Aleyana’s access to benefits is limited, compounding the challenges she and her family now face,” Azeem said. “This is a moment for our community to come together and show the support that has always defined Cambridge.” 

The exchange of gunfire on the court behind the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper schools and Valente branch library resulted in two non-life-threatening injuries, including Pina’s, and one quick arrest – of 23-year-old Cambridge resident Yonayvi Cruceta, who was first treated for his own wounds, then charged with carrying a loaded firearm without a license and other crimes. Officials announced his arrest May 28.

A second suspect was charged Thursday: Machyus Battle, 19, of Cambridge, who was held without the possibility of bail after his arraignment in Cambridge District Court pending a dangerousness hearing.

The news of Battle’s arrest came just hours before a second community safety meeting resulting from the incident, which Pina attended but did not speak at.

Cruceta is out on bail, police commissioner Christine Elow said, prompting an attendee at the meeting to call out, “Is that supposed to make us feel safe?” But another resident noted that Cruceta has been seen wearing an ankle monitor. 

Guns and policing

Elow assured the roughly 100 people at the meeting held at the Cambridge Street Upper School that Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and that Cambridge has little gun crime for a densely packed city of some 118,000 people. Still, after the guns used by Cruceta and Battle were found confiscated, it was discovered one was a “ghost gun” – an illegal and untraceable weapon “where you can buy pieces of guns through the mail and then put one together,” Elow said. “We have two people that have access to guns and weren’t afraid to use them.”

“This incident left many of us shaken,” said Mayor E. Denise Simmons, who led some of the meeting.

Also present were Azeem, whose home overlooks the basketball court and rushed to the scene immediately after the shooting as Pina was being cared for by friends, as well as fellow city councillors Sumbul Siddiqui and Ayesha Wilson and officials such as Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager for human services.

Elow reassured residents and officials that police were maintaining an extra presence in the area “on bikes, on foot, to actually engage in with our community” and that the investigation was continuing as well, including with the help of cameras that are installed at the basketball court.

“There are some other people we’re interested in,” Elow said.

Witnesses needed

As at the previous community meeting, the case of Charlene Holmes came up. Holmes, 16, was killed nearby in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood June 3, 2012. The drive-by shooting targeted a reputed drug dealer who lived in a building Holmes walking past with her friend Thanialee Cotto, then 17, on the way back from McDonald’s in Central Square. Despite what seemed like a simple case with several witnesses who said they knew all the people involved, there has been no arrest in the case over the past dozen years. Elow had the same explanation as from the previous meeting: The case is “uncharged, not unsolved.”

“It’s due to fear and a number of different reasons that people do not come forward when it comes to these homicide cases,” Elow said. “You need somebody to come forward to say, ‘I saw this. This is the person who shot the gun.’”

In the meantime, Elow said attention is going to putting programs in place for young people to keep them occupied safely during the heat of the summer.

Crowdfunding for Pina

Others are focused as well on supporting Pina.

The $12,000 crowdfunding campaign has raised $8,600 so far. Donations help cover lost wages from the schools where she has worked for the past three years and medical expenses and support for her family during a difficult time, Azeem said, and “every contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference.”

“Aleyana is a beloved figure to many children in our community. Her joy in hearing kids’ laughter, their questions and her commitment to creating a nurturing environment are testaments to her character and dedication,” according to the crowdfunding campaign. “Her favorite part of work is hearing the kids ask questions and laughing, and knowing that she is doing her part to make our community a better place for everyone.”

The crowdfunding campaign is here.