‘Kid stuff’ dispute leaves 3 teens dead

Friends gather near the scene of a shooting where candles, a teddy bear and photos were left Wednesday. Three teens were murdered in what police are calling an ambush. Under arrest is Axel Barreto, 31, a man known to police and the criminal courts. — AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

Like so many other senseless, violent crimes in Philadelphia, the recent murders of three teenagers is an incident that law enforcement officials say just didn’t have to happen.

The accused killer, Axel Barreto, 31, didn’t have to come out of his home armed and prepared to violently intervene in an ongoing confrontation between his three stepsons and the seven other teens who showed up ready to fight. It could have been what community activists call a “teachable moment” to defuse the situation. The victims, Javier Orlandi, 16, Joshua Soto, 14 and Dante Lugo, also 14, were out in a car at 10:30 p.m., well past curfew for a school night.

It’s a case with lots of “what-ifs” and “could haves” and “should haves” — resulting in three grieving families and wasted lives.

Captain James Clark, commander of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit, said it all started on Tuesday, Jan. 9, in the vicinity of the 1500 block of East Luzerne Street in the Juniata section. What sparked the shooting was a neighborhood dispute between two groups of teens that spilled into the school and on Facebook.

“All of this stemmed from an ongoing dispute between two groups of boys — kids’ stuff that slowly escalated — disputes in school and on Facebook. What we have are four shooting victims and their three friends who were in a small vehicle and went to have a confrontation with three brothers outside their home,” Clark said. “The victims expected the three brothers to come out. Instead, the suspect, Axel Barreto, steps out in a green hoodie, carrying a gun. The victims take off in the car and drive around to the rear of the residence. Barreto is waiting for them, and he walks up to the car and fires 12 shots into the vehicle, striking the victims.”

Clark said that Orlandi had been struck multiple times, and so was Soto. Lugo was struck in the head and remained in critical condition until he died Tuesday morning. Another 16-year-old who was behind the wheel was wounded in the neck. His name was not released.

“As we were progressing with the investigation, we received information that the suspect was hiding at the Knights Inn Motel in Bensalem. He was arrested without incident on Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. He has an extensive criminal record and has been charged with three counts of murder,” Clark said.

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