WOONSOCKET — The four loud bangs heard just before 8 p.m. Thursday sounded like fireworks to Zuleyma Neco, 22, of 44 Florida St. But the noise actually turned out to be gunfire and Neco, in her apartment with her own small children and those of her mother, saw the aftermath of a crime when she looked out the window.
A car had backed into the side of her next-door neighbor’s home after its 27-year-old driver was shot twice by someone in another car.
“It scared us,” said Neco, who had been caring for her three children and her mother’s two children.
Police yesterday identified the alleged shooter as Justin R. Menard, 25, of Woonsocket, and obtained a warrant for his arrest on two felony counts of assault with a dangerous weapon.
Menard’s photograph was released by police in an attempt to locate him and Police Lt. Eugene Jalette was warning residents not to approach the suspect if he is spotted.
“He should be considered armed and dangerous,” Jalette said while advising residents to contact the department immediately with any information about his whereabouts. Menard is 5-foot, 11-inches tall, and had been seen driving a large white vehicle at the time of the shooting, Jalette said.
Information on the suspect can be called into the department’s tip line at 769-4444, or referred to Det. Sgt. Phil Kamer, head of the ongoing investigation of the shooting.
The shooting occurred at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Robinson Street as the 27-year-old operator of a 2004 BMW pulled up to the stop sign on Florida Avenue with a female subject as a passenger, according to Jalette. Menard is alleged to have pulled out in front of the stopped car, exited his vehicle, and fired off multiple shots with a handgun. Bullets struck the windshield and the front fender of the vehicle before also striking the operator. Jalette said the operator reported suffering two superficial bullet wounds in the incident.
The victim attempted to escape the shooter and put his vehicle in reverse, Jalette said.
“He went to back up and under the situation he was in, just lost control of his vehicle,” Jalette said. The BMW cut across the lawn at 597 Robinson St. and crashed through a half wall over the foundation into the dwelling’s finished basement.
The homeowner found the victim out of the car and in the basement, Jalette said.
After exiting the dwelling, the victim was reported to have encountered a friend outside who drove him to Landmark Medical Center for treatment of his wounds. The female passenger of the car was not hurt and stayed at the scene, according to Jalette.
The driver was released from Landmark after treatment.
Police are still investigating what may have transpired between Menard and the victim to prompt the shooting.
“Right now the case is still under investigation and we hope to get Mr. Menard under arrest so we can find out what happened,” Jalette said.
Residents of the neighborhood speculated the shooting may have been related to drug activity they have seen in the nearby city-owned Morin Heights housing complex. Police are aware of some illegal activity in that neighborhood and will be taking active steps to investigate it, Jalette said.
“We are actively seeking Menard and we hope to capture him so we get this part of the case closed and move on to other subjects in this investigation,” he said.
Residents of the area can help that effort by notifying the department of anything they saw Thursday night, Jalette said.
“The biggest thing is for people to be vigilant in their neighborhoods and let us know what is going on,” he said.
Martin Darasouk, 21, who lives with his parents at 589 Robinson St., said he wasn’t home at the time but was told by neighbors of the four shots being fired at the intersection.
“It’s typical I guess. It’s kind of a bad neighborhood with a lot of fights going on,” he said. Like his neighbors, Darasouk said his parents had been “shocked” by the shooting near their home.
Neco’s mother, Carmen, said the shooting was out of character for the area.
“It’s usually very quiet around here,” she said. “It’s not like it happens all the time.”
Carmen Neco said she had been at work when her daughter called her to say a shooting had occurred up the street from her apartment.
“She said there were gunshots and that a car had gone into the home next door. I said, “‘Oh, my God,’” Neco said.
Neco said she expects the suspect wanted by police will be found quickly. “I know they will find him, the Woonsocket cops are very good,” she said.