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Middle School Put On Lockdown After Melee

March 9, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN And RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writers

Growing tensions between rival groups triggered by a fight in Keney Park had a ripple effect at Fox Middle School in Hartford Wednesday morning, as about two dozen students got into a series of fights that stopped traffic on Albany and Blue Hills avenues.

Students and teachers were so rattled by the violence that the principal postponed scheduled Connecticut Mastery testing and put the school on lockdown for the day. It took all five of the school's security guards, several teachers and a half-dozen police officers to get the youngsters under control.

Police issued citations charging 26 students with rioting and breach of peace. The students were suspended for 10 days and could face expulsion, Principal Andrew Serrao said.

No one was seriously injured, Serrao said, though parents and older siblings of some of the children said the kids went home with aches and pains.

School officials and police said they suspect that Wednesday's trouble started in the school's cafeteria at breakfast when a friend of a male student who was jumped Tuesday night in Keney Park confronted another boy in the cafeteria.

"Why you roll on my boy?" he said, according to officials who investigated the incident.

"We can take it outside," the other said.

The two students, who reportedly are involved with rival street gangs known as "The Ave" and "CNN," went outside and started fighting near Greenfield Street and Blue Hills Avenue.

As several girls jumped in to defend their friends and relatives, fights broke out all over the school grounds, sidewalks and busy city streets. With students fighting in the streets, traffic at the intersection of Blue Hills and Albany Avenue had to stop, Serrao said.

The fighting continued inside the school, where several brawls broke out before the morning bell rang, witnesses said. Fox Middle School has about 740 children in the seventh and eighth grades.

"They asked my friend to open the door [on the third floor] and he got punched in the face," said Jelisa Gonzales, 13. "Another boy punched him in the mouth. He tried to hit back but what can you do? I just walked away."

Jelisa said the early morning fights ruined the entire school day.

"They had the school on lockdown today," she said. "When someone had to go to bathroom, teachers brought the whole class."

"This has got to stop," said April Knight, who said her daughter, Siera, has been jumped eight times since the beginning of school. "They need to stop saying it's just The Ave and CNN. It's all of them, West Hell, Crookville, everybody," she said, referring to other gangs made up largely of teenagers who live in particular neighborhoods.

Knight said her daughter was on the third floor getting her coat when she was jumped. She said it's time for city officials to stop talking and to start doing something about it.

"It was a melee," said Terry D'Italia, the school district spokesman. "It's a mess."

Starri Easterling, 23, who witnessed the fights outside the school, said the adults had a hard time separating the angry children. When it was over, she said, she saw one male teacher with shoe prints on his pants, indicating he may have been kicked; another teacher had grass stains on his pants.

Serrao, still shaken at the end of the school day, said he was heartbroken because there were few fights at the school this year, despite tension simmering among some of the school's girls. A few weeks ago, Serrao said, he called the girls and their parents together to try to work out the problems and he thought the counseling made a difference.

"It feels like the kids here are in control," said Melinda Sanchez, 37, who came to the school to pick up a friend. She said she hadn't been in the school for years, but was amazed by the numbers of security officers and police.

At the end of the day, Hartford Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett met with a couple of parents and pleaded with them to call his office with information about conflicts.

Eric Crawford, the district's violence prevention specialist, said he plans today to go to the homes of other parents who didn't show up for the meeting with police and ask for their help.

"We have to find out what's at the root of today's incident," Serrao said."It was very unnerving."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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