Another murder in Berkeley

Police examine bloody clothing left on ground after shooting

One man was killed and another was seriously injured Tuesday in a mid-morning shooting on Sacramento Street near Russell.

Two men were walking on the street near a neighborhood hang out called Johnson’s Barbershop around 8:43 a.m. when they were shot by two assailants, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department.

The assailants ran south on Sacramento Street. The victims were transported to a local trauma center, where one was pronounced dead. Both the victims and assailants were black.

It was a particularly vicious gun battle as the assailants apparently fired close to 30 bullets at their victims.


Yellow plastic signs mark location of gun casings

Police would not release the names of the victims, but Berkeleyside learned from the many people clustered on the sidewalk after the shooting that the deceased is Gary Ferguson Jr., the son of Gary Ferguson Sr., a former heroin addict who once ran STEPS, a drug and alcohol rehab center on Dwight Way. The other victim is named Larry.* Their ages are not known.

Sgt. Kusmiss said police believe the assailants were targeting the victims and that it was not a random shooting of strangers. She commented that the shooting came at a time when the street is usually crowded with people.

“This is unusual for this community so early in the morning,” said Sgt. Kusmiss. “There were a number of community members going to school, going to work.”

The principal of Longfellow School a few blocks away saw all the news helicopters circling overhead, called police, and learned about the shootings. She pulled all the kids off the playground, according to BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan.

The 2900 block of Sacramento Street between Ashby and Russell in south Berkeley includes a strip of stores that include two barbershops across the street from one another, a Laundromat, Moses Chiropractic, the Accidental Injury Clinic, and other stores.

Kusmiss said a lot of people hang out on the street, but that police did not consider it a particularly dangerous neighborhood. There was a shooting outside Johnson’s Barbershop last year, she said. Police do consider it a place of “concern,” she said.

A neighbor whose daughter was shot nearby last year disagreed with that assessment, and said there is a lot of drug dealing and prostitution in the area. She said she has seen male prostitutes hanging out on the corner and has seen people slipping drugs to one another.

Neighbors gather on Sacramento St. to learn more about the shooting

The sound of bullets and news that two people had been shot brought crowds onto Sacramento Street. Immediately after the shooting, many people were on their cell phones relaying the news to friends. They could see a stream of blood running down the sidewalk into the street and bloodied clothes on the sidewalk.

About a half hour after the shooting, cries of grief erupted from a nearby alley. Ferguson’s mother had apparently just received word that her son had died, and she and her sisters started to sob uncontrollably.

This is Berkeley’s fifth homicide of the year. There was also a shooting nearby on August 31, 2010, on Sacramento and Oregon streets.

* The second victim is not Gary Ferguson Jr.s’ stepson, who is also named Larry.

Photos by Frances Dinkelspiel