* Photo by Simon Jones. 
On guard: Police officers kept the Footpath Lane area of St. Monica’s Mission cordoned off as they combed the area for clues.
* Photo by Simon Jones. On guard: Police officers kept the Footpath Lane area of St. Monica’s Mission cordoned off as they combed the area for clues.
Escalating 'tit for tat' violence over petty disagreements is the root cause of the gang-war that has left five people injured and one dead in the past six weeks.

Senior officers say there is no obvious reason for the violence and no evidence of a 'turf war' over drug territory.

They believe the warring gangs are caught in a spiral of revenge-motivated attacks that often start with something as trivial as the theft of a gold chain or a fight over a girl.

"It seems to be based on personal grievances that start over something petty and have escalated to the point where it is a shooting for a shooting. They don't seem to be concerned about taking a life," said one source.

In some cases the motivation can be traced back to something as simple as the theft of a bicycle or a sign of disrespect shown by one gang member to another.

Those kind of retaliatory attacks have been going on for years. But the proliferation of guns has added a frightening new dimension to the mix.

Officers on the front line believe they are not tackling sophisticated criminal organisations but mediating 'schoolyard' disputes that in previous eras would have been fought with fists, or at worst knives and machetes.

"I can't point to any reason why they are doing it. It just baffles me how somebody could lose their life for no reason at all," said one officer.

Superintendent Antoine Daniels added: "Before you might have seen an assault and that would have been it but it has escalated to firearms and death.

"Once that first shot was fired it upped the ante. The culture before in Bermuda was that guys might bring out a gun to scare people, now if you bring out a gun you have to be prepared to use it."

He added that the community needed to brace itself for more violence because there was no sign of an end to the cycle.

"They are going back and forth at each other. We are probably going to have to prepare for more violence. I can't see them stopping any time soon. One person has died so we know the other group is going to try to hit back."

In the last 12 months it has become much more common for street-level thugs to carry guns.

Prior to that, said Mr. Daniels, it was largely restricted to the 'main players'. But the rise in shootings is a problem that has fed of itself, with more and more criminals carrying weapons for protection.

"There is a good [number] of firearms out there. It has got to the point where they know if they go out to a club they might get shot at so they have their weapon close by."

Police intelligence suggests that firearms are mostly smuggled in along with drug packages on container ships. Drug smuggler Kershun Dublin admitted last month to bringing in three revolvers, a pistol and ammunition along with a $25,000 shipment of cannabis, hidden inside a toolbox.

Dublin, who is still awaiting sentencing, was caught in a customs/police sting. But others are getting through.

Police do not believe that there is a big black-market trade within Bermuda and it is likely that weapons, smuggled into Bermuda along with narcotics by a drug organization, are kept within the group.

Police have stepped up stop and search patrols in Pembroke in a bid to intercept gangsters and confiscate their weapons before they get to each other.

But officers say it is becoming less and less common for the 'main players' to carry their own weapons.

It is understood that guns are often broken down into component parts and moved from house to house or even hidden on the railway trail or in spots around the community, to be accessed when required.

Even then criminals have been known to use their girlfriends or teenage gophers to transport their weapons for them, rather than risk being caught themselves.

John Clutterbuck, head of the Police Support Unit which is tasked with carrying out the 'stop and search' tactics, said his men were stepping up patrols in areas affected by the gang war.

"Firearms are being seized but not as frequently as we would like, based on the amount of reports we have received."

He said the job of his unit had evolved in recent years from a public order role - dealing with disturbances and demonstrations - to a more pro-active anti-gang role.

Their main activity in recent months has been to stop and search in areas where police intelligence suggests people could be carrying weapons. Current legislation allows for heightened powers over a 24-hour period, potentially extended to 48 hours, based on a threat assessment by senior police.

But they stress they can't be everywhere - a fact that was starkly illustrated by Saturday morning's shooting.

The unit was on patrol in known locales of the 42 and Parkside gangs on Friday night. They made 50 weapons searches and 10 arrests for weapons.

The island was a 'ghost town' when they knocked off just after 4.30am.

Less than an hour later Kumi Harford was shot dead on St Monica's Road.