Stunned by gun violence that includes a string of homicides in Denver and brazen, daylight shootings near the 16th Street Mall and near a high school, a group of ministers is calling for prayer vigils across the metro area.

"I don't think the issue is one that is going to be solved simply by law enforcement," said New Covenant Christian Church pastor Reginald Holmes.

Churches, businesses and social agencies must get involved in trying to put an end to violence, Holmes said.

Seventeen people have been murdered in Denver since the beginning of the year, and six in Aurora. That is fewer than in the same period last year, when there were 22 homicides in Denver and eight in Aurora.

But the bloodshed, mixed with shock over a nonfatal shooting near a downtown light-rail station last month, has raised concerns that this summer could be particularly bloody, said former Denver Manager of Safety Fidel "Butch" Montoya, now director of H.S. Power & Light Ministries — Latino Faith Initiative.

"In our congregations, there is a sense of fear and confusion. A shooting in midday on the 16th Street Mall?" said Montoya, who organized a Tuesday meeting between more than 20 ministers, Police Chief Robert White and Safety Manager Alex Martinez.

The clergy members are contacting others to hold prayer vigils this summer, anytime and anywhere they feel appropriate, Montoya said.


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The effort is called Prayer + the City (Prayer Cross the City).

The group also plans to put together a safety plan to stop the violence before it begins, Holmes said. They will hold a safety summit that will bring together community leaders and others to develop a plan, he said.

The pastors have been through this drill before.

In 2003, after police shot and killed Paul Childs, a developmentally disabled teen armed with a knife, police helped churches identify families where mental illness was a problem, Holmes said.

The churches then reached out to those people, offering them services or referring them to agencies that could help.

"We served well over a thousand folks for a year or two with the help of the Police Department," Holmes said.

Something like that might help in the present situation, he said.

Police Cmdr. Ron Saunier, head of Denver's Crimes Against Persons Bureau, said officers welcome church involvement.

"I believe there is some good coming out of a lot of people coming together and trying to address the issues and problems," he said.

The 16th Street Mall incident began with a verbal confrontation at a Taco Bell and came to a head when a teen shot a man, reportedly from a rival gang, at 15th and California streets.

There were two fatal shootings May 25 at the busy intersection of Bruce Randolph Avenue and York Street, where Deon Tracy Rudd, 30, and Justin O'Donnell, 21, were gunned down outside a medical-marijuana center where they worked. Two other people were wounded in the daylight attack. Police have arrested Marquise Davis, 23, and Denzel Richardson, 20, in the deaths.

Police believe the deaths of Rudd and O'Donnell were gang-related. They also suspect gang involvement in a shooting death in Montbello last month, Saunier said.

And on March 20, De'Quan Walker-Smith, 18, was murdered near Manual High just before 3 p.m. Mannie Lee Legrand, 20, is a suspect in his death. At a memorial, Smith's father lamented the gang violence in his Whittier neighborhood.

Saunier said the number of violent deaths fluctuates from year to year, and there is no reason to assume that 2012 will be worse than others.

Last year, there were eight homicides in May and two in June.

"As we go through, it fluctuates month to month," Saunier said. "We are taking very aggressive action, working with the community and trying to bring together all the partners to assure we have a safe city."

Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671 or tmcghee@denverpost.com