NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A Christmas night shooting in a residential neighborhood took the lives of a boy and girl barely into their teens, and took New Jersey's largest city back to a grim statistic of its recent past as homicides have reached triple digits for the first time in nearly a decade.
Newark police and the county prosecutor's office said a 13-year-old and 14-year-old were killed in a shooting that also left a third young victim hospitalized in critical but stable condition. The shooting occurred on a one-way street of detached three-story homes that ends yards from Interstate 78.
Shaheedah Frazier, the mother of the wounded teen, lives on the first floor of the house where the shooting occurred. She told reporters Thursday that a friend of her son's who witnessed the shooting told her that some of the teens were on the porch when a gunman wearing a ski mask came up the steps and started firing.
Frazier said her son was shot once in the chest and was alert in the hospital but was unable to breathe without a tube. She said her son's friend told her that the girl, who lived on the third floor of the house, was taking out the garbage at the time of the shooting.
The Essex County Prosecutor's office hadn't released the names of the victims or a possible motive for the shooting Thursday.
Newark police reported 96 murders through Dec. 8. At least four more, including Wednesday night's slayings, have been reported since then by the prosecutor's office.
Newark, a city of about 280,000 residents, last reached triple digits in murders in 2006 with 107, according to police department statistics. That number fell slightly, to 99, the following year before dropping to 67 in 2008. The sharp decrease coincided with a heightened focus on violent crime after the grisly murders of three college-bound friends behind an elementary school in the summer of 2007 made national headlines.
In addition to more aggressive policing of so-called "quality-of-life" crimes, millions of dollars in donations helped Newark police install surveillance cameras and a gunshot-detection system in high-crime areas. In recent years, however, the murder rate has climbed back up to its pre-2008 levels.
"It's a tragedy," Frazier said Thursday. "This just has to stop. The violence has to stop."