STAMFORD -- The victim shot once in the head by an unkown gunman Thursday night in the South End has been identified by police as William "Buttons" James.

The 46-year-old was pronounced dead at Stamford Hospital following the shooting around 8:30 p.m. on a crowded city street.

Police are searching for a suspect in the shooting and said James was specifically targeted and shot at close range.

Less than 12 hours after the shooting on Friday morning, friends said they were stunned by the death.

Stamford police Lt. Diedrich Hohn said a large number of people were playing dice and cards on the street when the shooting happened. But few if any would tell police exactly what happened and who fired executioners bullet.

A single green die with white pips was still laying on the street Friday morning near where Buttons was shot.

One woman, who has known Buttons for years, and saw him moments before he was shot in front of the La Fabulosa market, said she couldn't understand why anyone would have shot him.

The woman, who would not give her name said, "I can't think of anything he could have done to somebody for them to do that. I really can't."

The woman said she saw him next to the Tres Hermanos bodega across the street from La Fabulosa and the two spoke for a minute. She asked him for a sip of what he was drinking and he asked her for a cigarette. After trading a little friendly banter the woman walked up to the liquor store.

When she came out of the store, "I saw police everywhere. I didn't hear nothing. I didn't hear anything," she said.

"I saw a body lying on a stretcher and I said, `who is that, who is that?" The woman said a policeman approached her and asked if she knew anyone who would want to shoot Buttons. "I said, what? I don't understand this," she said.

Another man who grew up and went to school with Buttons in Stamford, said Buttons was a nice person, would always say hello and share some laughs. The man, who did not want to give his name, said Buttons did not sell drugs, but he said people do sell drugs on the popular corner.

"They need to be run out of here," the man said of the drug dealers. "The police need to do their job better," the man said, adding that he doesn't come out at night because of the drug dealers and violence.

Another man, who did not want his name used said Buttons was a "stand-up guy."

"He stood up for me a couple times when people tried to overtake me, for what ever reasons. People would bully you and he would stop them," he said, adding that Buttons was over six feet tall. "He would sit right here and mind his own business," the man said pointing to a spot near a chain link fence one door down from the Tres Hermanos bodega. "But if you were wrong, he'd tell you you were wrong."

The shooting occurred shortly after 8:30 p.m. on a warm late spring evening outside La Fabulosa, on the south-east corner Woodland Avenue and Pacific Street. After firing a single shot, the gunman took off running east on Ludlow Street and disappeared into the night.

It is the city's first homicide since April 19, 2013 -- an unprecedented streak of urban peace that police attributed to their aggressive campaign to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

Police blocked off the area between Woodland Avenue and Henry Street while investigators combed the area for evidence and interviewed any potential witnesses.

Hohn said a single shell casing was recovered at the scene, but he declined to say what type of weapon was used. He said investigators will be piecing together clues and will be looking at any video surveillance from multiple cameras in the area.

Police have not made an arrest in the city's last homicide which killed Jeffrey McNeil, 24, of 97 Noble St., as he was standing with a group of men in front of the Cut Master barber shop at 91 Richmond Hill Ave.

Gun violence and other crime has dropped significantly in the city in recent years. Recent crime data show that one of the biggest statistical crime drops occurred with homicides. For the entire year of 2013, Stamford had one homicide, compared with five in 2012.

According to FBI statistics, Stamford in the 16th safest of the 269 cities in the nation and well ahead of any in Connecticut with a population greater than 100,000 that report their crime statistics to the FBI.