Just feet from where the chubby fingers of young, budding artists spill paint at a neighborhood art center in Homewood, blood was spilled Sunday morning.
Jeffrey P. Jackson, 38, of Verona was fatally shot shortly before 5:10 a.m. just outside the Art House center at 7743 Hamilton Ave., near Hale Street. The center was founded more than a year ago by Vanessa German, an artist and anti-violence activist who sent out a plaintive cry via Facebook less than a hour after the homicide: "I don't know what to do. Please pray for us," she wrote.
The sound of gunshots isn't foreign in this neighborhood, said one 78-year-old resident who asked not to be named. But, she said, she has never heard them this close to home; never this close to an art center that attracts children with the promise of creativity and the encouragement of signs that read: "Believe," "Love" and "Stop Shooting -- We Love You."
"I never experienced nothing like this in my life. Never. I looked out my window and there he was, a dead man laying in the street," the woman said. A crowd of 10 or so people were on the scene, she said. "They was just looking. It was sad. And it's Mother's Day," the mother of nine grown children said.
The Allegheny County medical examiner determined that Mr. Jackson died of multiple gunshot wounds to his trunk. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said Mr. Jackson was shot at least four times in the chest. She said officers responded to a report that a man was lying in the street, shot and not breathing. She said police were working to interview witnesses. A light-colored Camaro was seen leaving the scene, she said.
The senior citizen who was awakened from her sleep by the shots said she often hears the sounds of violence, but, "this time, I thought, 'Oh, that sounds close. Too close.' " She stayed inside her home, she said, thinking of the mother who lost her son.
Ms. German, 38, described being awakened by shots and "screams to the heavens" by a woman who described Mr. Jackson as her boyfriend.
"It was terrible. I ran outside. She asked me if I could help him. I got a blanket but ... there was no helping him," Ms. German said. Ms. Toler would not say whether Mr. Jackson's girlfriend was with him at the time of the shooting.
Ms. German noted that she wished she could say she was surprised by a fatal shooting happening outside the Art House -- just two doors away from where she lives. But she said she's not.
"The street has been feeling different. There's been a hiked-up sense of activity. I have been telling the kids to keep their eyes open and watch out," she said.
Does the incident make her rethink the need for an art center in the middle of a neighborhood where violence may be on the rise? No, she said, adding: "The kids who saw this today, what do they do with it? They need a place to create and to express themselves."
Police have not released details of what precipitated the shooting. According to court records, Mr. Jackson has been charged with several crimes over almost two decades ranging from misdemeanor disorderly conduct and drug-related incidents to felony robbery.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or 724-772-9180. Robert Zullo contributed. First Published May 11, 2014 8:35 AM