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Thursday, March 4, 2021

West Side Story

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Andrew Flaherty
Andrew Flaherty
Wilmington native. University of Delaware graduate. Media and Pop Culture junkie. Exploring the unusual and offbeat in the area.

A source in the Wilmington Police department told me that the legacy of a recent gang war in 2010 between the Trapstars and a Latin Kings subset called the Popes Group might be behind the story of the West Side shootings a few days ago at 9th and Adams Streets.

Earlier this year when Beau Biden triumphantly announced that nine young men involved in the Trapstars/Popes Group gang war had been sent to prison for a long time, he didn’t mention that these guys still had a lot of bad friends on the streets. As Wilmington Police Detective Thomas Curley put it, “both sides feel it isn’t over yet.”  The wild shootouts of 2010 happened up and down 4th Street, but it all started farther out, just blocks from the Ed “Porky” Oliver Golf Course and the Union Street bar scene.

As The News Journal reported a few months ago, the Trapstars were aspiring rappers and friends from Kirk Middle School and McKean High School who decided to sell heroin, pack guns and turn their fledgling rap group the Trapstars into a real gang called… the Trapstars.  They were immediately in conflict with the Popes Group, who didn’t like this upstart rap group suddenly selling drugs on their turf in the Hilltop neighborhood off of 4th Street.

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3rd and Harrison Streets in Hilltop

Back in the day, before they sold heroin to pay for studio time, the Trapstars posted rap videos on YouTube, and dreamed of music careers, but as they ventured further down 4th street to deal drugs and live the gangster lifestyle that they rapped about, they got into fistfights with Popes Group, and usually came out the losers in these beefs. Undeterred, the Trapstars continued their drug sling, and 3rd and Harrison in Hilltop was still their corner of choice.

The Popes Group decided to teach them a lesson and headed up 4th Street to where the Trapstars hung out, and in December of 2009, they spied some of them in front of a cell phone store on Lancaster Avenue and shot at them from their car. A few months later the Popes Group felt emboldened enough to rip off a Trapstar stash house near Porky’s golf course, taking money, heroin and guns.

The Trapstars founder and best rapper, Terrence Mills, lived with his parents just a stone’s throw away from the stash house, and less than a half mile from Westover Hills, and so when Popes Group riddled Mills’ house with bullets in early April 2010, they probably thought they had sent a final warning to the wannabe gang.

Instead, the Trapstars decided it was time to walk the walk, and went to war.

Mills and his friends went looking for payback in Hilltop a few nights later, endlessly circling the area and seeking someone to shoot from the Latin King’s subset, but the streets were crowded on that warm spring evening, and when they finally pulled the trigger, they ended up shooting someone else by mistake.

They knew the Popes Group would be coming after them (as many inner-city shootings are part of an endless tit for tat), and so the Trapstars decided on a pre-emptive strike.  On April 30th, just a few blocks from Frawley Stadium on the other side of I-95, a Trapstar gunman tried to ambush the rival gang, but after firing his gun three times and missing, his clip fell out and he ran away.

There was no future dealing heroin at 3rd and Harrison for the Trapstars, and they moved further down 4th Street near the Adams Four Shopping Center, making their new base of operations a few blocks away at 8th and Adams.

I have a friend that lives on that Adams Street block and he knew a local teenage kid named Marc Taylor, who used to hang out near the on-ramp to  I-95 North, and said Taylor was well-liked and had a good sense of humor. My friend didn’t know Taylor’s nickname was “Guntown” and that his gang, the Trapstars, were now operating around the I-95/4th Street corridor. The Popes Group knew this and they were stalking the area.

Within a week after their botched Stroud Street ambush, one of the Trapstars was sitting on a porch at 8th and Adams Streets and spotted a car full of the Popes Group at a red light. Wasting no time, he walked off the porch and into the street, firing eight shots at the car and killing one of the people inside.

The Popes Group struck back the same week and shot “Guntown” Taylor on the very same block and continued shooting at him as he ran into my friend’s apartment building to hide in the stairwell “leaving blood everywhere.” In a couple of weeks, the paranoid Taylor was well enough to be walking around the area again, and rightfully assuming he was being targeted, unloaded his pistol on an unarmed pedestrian he mistook for a Popes Group assassin.

Taylor was arrested and this turned out to be the final shooting of the year-long dispute, because within a month the police had unraveled the gang war and locked up nine members of the Trapstars gang. The arrests stopped the violent surge, but still left a lot of bad blood between the two camps out on the streets.

A shooting last week at 9th and Adams Streets that killed one and sent another person to the hospital has people in that neighborhood remembering what it was like a few years ago and wondering if some of the same guys are involved. My cop friend (who isn’t investigating this recent shooting) wearily said that it’s always the same guys committing all the same crimes.

Less than two weeks ago, a 70-year-old priest was assaulted in Cool Springs Park and there was the requisite big community rally at a church, with the police promising extra patrols. However, it seems that nothing can stop the violence, and since then there have been shootings almost every night, one of them just a few blocks away from where the priest was beat up in Cool Springs Park.

What a summer.

With a mayoral primary in just over a month, public safety is becoming the issue in Wilmington. But can anything be done, or should we just get used to a more violent world?

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