Rebecca “Becca” Vossmeyer of the Central West End and Lisa Tran of Ballwin, who works in the Central West End, set up luminaries and create a chalk-inscribed tribute to the life and loss of Megan Boken at an Aug. 23 memorial gathering in the Central West End. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
August 29, 2012While still reeling from the shooting death of St. Louis University alumna Megan Boken, residents of the Central West End have joined forces to address the issue of violent crime.
Boken, the victim of an attempted robbery, was shot on Saturday, Aug. 18, at approximately 2:20 p.m., at the corner of Maryland and Taylor avenues. The 23-year-old Wheaton, Ill., native died of her injuries. Police have charged Keith Esters and Johnathan Perkins in the crime. Both are 18-year-old St. Louis area men.
The shooting follows a series of gun-related crimes in the Central West End (CWE), but is the first incident in two years that resulted in homicide.
Jim Dwyer, chairman of the Central West End North Special Business District, said Central West End residents have reacted with outrage at the nature of the crime and with compassion for the loss the Boken family has sustained.
"We take this particular tragedy personally because it happened right in our front yard," said Dwyer. "We feel compassion for all victims of this sort of crime. We are resolute in our determination to do whatever we can to assist the mayor's office and the circuit attorney's office to address these issues where guns are used to commit a crime."
Immediately following the shooting, a group of public officials and representatives of local entities in the Central West End convened for an urgent meeting. This group included representatives from Washington University; St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce; 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson; and members of the Central West End Neighborhood Security Initiative (NSI), which provides extra security to the CWE through funds generated by special business districts and Washington University School of Medicine.
"This was a roundtable meeting to discuss ways in which we might collaborate to advance this agenda of how to address armed criminal action," said Dwyer.
The planned program for the regular monthly meeting of the NSI on Aug. 29 was put on hold to ensure time for residents to discuss the shooting. NSI meetings are held the fourth Wednesday of the month, 5:30 p.m., at the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 225 N. Euclid Ave.
On Aug. 23, residents of the Central West End lit luminaries and lined the streets of Maryland, Pershing and McPherson as a tribute to the life and loss of Megan Boken.
Megan Boken (click for larger version)
"We want her family to know that we are horrified that their daughter lost her life on our block," said CWE resident Katie O'Connor, who lives on Maryland Avenue near Taylor.
"I think people on our block are dealing with a roller coaster of emotions," she said. "The fact that it did take place at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a busy Saturday – it seems so brazen in addition to being senseless."
O'Connor said the residential neighborhood has quite a few families with young children, and that people are sad, angry and frightened.
"I think it would be frightening no matter when it happened, and upsetting no matter who lost their life, but it made it even more sad that it was a young woman who had such a bright future ahead of her," said O'Connor.
"I think we're all pretty invested in this neighborhood," she added. "We believe in this neighborhood, and we believe in the city of St. Louis."
"Every aspect of this crime was horrific," said Jim Whyte, executive director of NSI. "I can't explain how something like that happens in the Central West End, in broad daylight, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon."
People stepped up to offer reward money almost immediately following the shooting, said Whyte. An initial $10,000 put up by the NSI grew to just over $40,000 through donations from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis University and other private donors. The reward was facilitated through CrimeStoppers.
"That says a lot about the community," said Whyte. "It says we care, we want to do what we can to help the police solve this crime. It had to be solved, and it has."
According to Officer Lisa Pisciotta, executive director of St. Louis Regional CrimeStoppers, tip information was not a determining factor in the arrest of the suspects in Boken's murder. The reward money will be returned to the donors. Some have chosen to keep the funds with the CrimeStoppers Tip Hotline Program, where it will be used for rewards in other felony crimes.
According to statistics compiled by the NSI, crime as a whole in the CWE has dropped in the past decade by nearly one third, and is down 17 percent since this time last year. Larceny made up the largest percentage of overall crime in 2011. The last homicide occurred in 2010.
"I personally am not a big follower of crime statistics," said Whyte, who spent 20 years with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department before taking the NSI position in February. "They're a good benchmark, don't get me wrong. But it doesn't do any good to tell people crime has been down 50 percent when we have incidents like this and robberies in the area."
The police department is ultimately the entity responsible for citizens' safety, said Whyte. Both St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Chief Dan Isom have acknowledged the increase in gun crime, with statistics showing a 14 percent increase overall this year for the city of St. Louis.
One incident that garnered attention happened Aug. 19 at Euclid and West Pine. Shots were fired at victims in an attempted robbery, but no one was hit.
Whyte said NSI provides patrols based on crime statistics and that he is in constant contact with his security providers.
"It's very similar to what the police do as far as crime mapping," he said. "We adjust the patrols to where we see crime happening."
Boken's murder was extremely random and unpredictable, he added.
"I have to accept certain things I can't change, and this is one of them," said Whyte. "I have to have faith that the considered approach we're using is working."
Gary Cole, president of GCI Security Inc., supplies security for the Cathedral Square Special Taxing District (east of Taylor) and for other locations in the Central West End. His company has been active in crime prevention since 1989.
Cole said gun crime has increased, as has disrespect for law enforcement. He said he takes these crimes very personally and tries to educate the public on ways to stay safe.
"Never think you're going to be the person it's not going to happen to," said Cole. "A lot of people let their guard down, especially in the Central West End. We have people coming from the county to the city, leaving belongings in plain sight. I've seen windows broken out of cars for pocket change.
"Everybody just needs to be alert," he added. "These are hard times now, and criminals are opportunists."
•Crime statistics for the city of St. Louis are available online at www.slmpd.org/crime_stats.html
•A list of crime statistics for the five special taxing districts served by the NSI, plus a map of its coverage area, is available at cwensi.com
•More information on GCI Security Inc., plus an interactive crime map, is online at gcisecurityinc.com