Here's what the police know: Around 10 pm on Sunday night, a confrontation erupted between the occupants of two cars driving north along N. Albina, just past Alberta. Otherwise, details about a rambunctious gun battle in North Portland last Sunday remain hazy--and police seem to be making little headway.

According to Lance Chess, the Mercury's circulation manager who lives less than a block away, the fight appeared to begin with car engines revving. This was followed by a rapid succession of 15 to 20 gunshots, likely from semiautomatic weapons. One of the racing cars apparently smashed into a parked vehicle, pushing it through the bike rack at nearby Big City Produce. Several bullet casings lay around the area and a bullet hole was found in the mural of smiling multi-ethnic faces on the side of the grocery store. The two cars--both reported stolen--were also eventually found wrecked and abandoned further up the street.

When police arrived on the scene--about 10 minutes later, without sirens going--they found an injured 16-year-old male who refused medical attention and declined to cooperate. At first, his injuries appeared to be the result of a gunshot but, an officer said later, could have been caused by a car accident. The victim insisted he was not in either car.

Residents in the area believe the incident is yet another example of stubborn and prevalent gang violence in the neighborhood that continues despite the efforts to clean up that section of the city. Over the past few months, area residents have witnessed an increase in gang tags and, more troublingly, the semi-frequent sight of dead bodies. (In April, a body was dumped a few feet from where last week's shooting occurred. The body lay there, uncovered, for several hours before police cleaned up the scene.) Moreover, neighbors say that police rarely patrol the area, instead focusing their attention on Killingsworth, a few blocks to the north. Such absence, say neighbors, has allowed gang activity to fester in areas off the beaten path.

After a day of investigation, a police spokesman said the entire incident was as much a mystery as when they arrived at the scene. SCOTT MOORE