Man accused in 'senseless' bloodbath

Linda Ortega (left) and her sister Natasha talk about Linda's son, Joshua Soto, one of the teenagers shot to death in an alley. (Sarah J. Glover/Staff)
Linda Ortega (left) and her sister Natasha talk about Linda's son, Joshua Soto, one of the teenagers shot to death in an alley. (Sarah J. Glover/Staff)
Posted: January 12, 2012

AXEL BARRETO KNEW his way around a gun. He'd been arrested at least seven times in the last 12 years on drug and weapons charges, including a 2004 case in which cops confiscated a gun that he had no license to carry and on which he'd obliterated the serial numbers.

So when a carload of teenagers arrived to beat up his stepsons Tuesday night in a feud that had simmered since the summer, Barreto was ready.

The Toyota Corolla, seven gangly boys squished inside, rolled to the curb outside Barreto's house on Luzerne Street near Castor Avenue in Juniata Park about 10:30 p.m. Within seconds, Barreto burst out the front door.

The young driver sped around the corner and approached Barreto's house from the rear.

But this time, Barreto didn't let them get away. He began blasting into the sedan, firing 10 to 12 times, homicide Capt. James Clark said.

By the time the gunfire subsided, two boys lay dying; a third died shortly before 9 last night, after doctors at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children removed life support.

A fourth teen, the 16-year-old driver, was shot in the neck and remained in stable condition at that hospital last night. Three other teens in the car somehow dodged injury.

Barreto, 30, last known to reside on 5th Street above Norris in North Philadelphia, remained on the lam after the shootings for almost an entire day.

Cops described him as "armed and extremely dangerous." But in the end, he was arrested again - unarmed - about 9 last night, in a room at the Knights Inn motel in Bensalem, by officers of the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force based on a tip. He was taken to Philadelphia Police Headquarters for processing.

Barreto was staying in the motel room with a woman friend in her early 30s who was not arrested, a source close to the investigation told the Daily News.

"This was very senseless," Clark had said of the shootings at a news conference earlier yesterday at Police Headquarters. "This very easily could have been seven dead teenagers."

Clark identified the slain teens as Joshua Soto, 14, of 9th Street near Poplar, in North Philadelphia, who had been shot in the shoulder and left forearm; and Javier Orlandi, 16, of Mayfield Street near Ella, in Kensington, who had been shot in the upper back. The teen who died last night, Dante Lugo, 14, was shot in the back of the head.

Sitting yesterday in the living room of his Kensington home, Alfredo Pacho mourned the loss of his stepson, Orlandi, and wondered what kind of man would open fire on a car full of teenagers.

"It's a kid's problem - there's no reason for an adult to be in the problem," Pacho told the Daily News.

Court records show that Barreto is a repeat offender with at least seven arrests for drug and gun offenses.

Just one resulted in conviction - a September 2000 arrest for drug offenses, which netted him two years' probation, according to court records.

That outraged Joshua Soto's relatives and friends, who gathered at his rowhouse to grieve.

"He was, like, ambushed! He was set up!" his mother, Linda Ortega sobbed. "I hope he [Barreto] rots! I hope he dies!"

Ortega and her sisters Bernadette Arita and Natasha Ortega cried as they remembered the boy they called "Fatty" for his stocky build.

He was a playful teen who loved to joke and enjoyed music so much that he hoped to be a singer, Ortega said.

An eighth-grader last year at Daniel Boone School, Joshua left because he didn't like it and was being home-schooled this year, said Ortega, a mother of eight. But he wanted to get a college degree, inspired by two older siblings now in college, Ortega said.

"He was a beautiful boy; that's all I can say," she sobbed.

Orlandi left his home on Mayfield Street near Ella in December to live with friends, Pacho said.

He began skipping school three years ago and eventually found himself on probation for truancy and for carrying a weapon. Although police said Orlandi was 16, Pacho said the boy was 14.

Soto and Orlandi had been best friends for years, Ortega said. She attributed the fight to "stupid Facebook stuff" that didn't involve her son. She doesn't believe he planned to participate in the fight and instead just got caught up.

Clark said investigators hadn't determined what sparked the Facebook fight.

Investigators found no weapons in a cursory search of the car; they were awaiting a search warrant yesterday before examining the car more closely, Clark said.

Two of the brothers and a teen in the car who survived were students at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School in Kensington, where Mayor Nutter spent part of the afternoon speaking out against retaliatory violence.

"You are in a great school in a loving environment with people who really care about you. Don't let this situation disrupt what you are about," he said to a group of about 100 students. "Stay in school, stay positive and stay focused."

Principal Jana Somma said school staff and the students' parents were unaware of any problems the boys may have had.

Nutter, was joined by District 7 Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos, also spoke with students at Kensington Culinary Arts High School, which Orlandi briefly attended.

Dozens of Bracetti students and those from other schools waited outside St. Christopher's Hospital yesterday.

The slayings raised the city's homicide count to 12 so far this year, an average of more than one a day. That's up from five homicides at the same time last year, according to police statistics.

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