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Victim's Mother: `Enough'

After Two Men Are Shot To Death, State And City Leaders Appeal For Peace In City

June 6, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

Twelve hours after two young men were killed just blocks from their homes early Monday, scores of elected leaders, clergy, social workers and activists joined with young people in pleading for a cease-fire in Hartford's North End.

Police said Keith "Booby" Burney Jr., 19, and Terrell "Cob" Oten, 20, were shot about 3:30 a.m. Monday at the corner of Tower Avenue and Addison Street, an area rarely the scene of gun violence.

They are the 12th and 13th reported homicides in the capital city this year.

As state and city leaders made a broad appeal for peace and proactive community support, and Christian and Islamic clergy prayed for an end to the violence, some of the most passionate voices came from family members of those slain in what the families characterize as "random" and "senseless violence."

"Somewhere along the way we lost our village and our children," state Rep. Kenneth Green said. "We are a part of the village that will help our children. ... Don't think you don't have an impact. Make your presence known," to the youths who've been neglected.

"I never thought I'd been burying my children [due to this] senseless violence," said Teresa Gordon, Oten's mother. "Enough is enough."

Witnesses said Burney and Oten had just purchased food at a corner store and were walking home when they were shot. They died later at local hospitals, police said.

Signs lingered later Monday that this quiet neighborhood of mostly single-family homes had been visited by the violence that has plagued the city in recent weeks. A bullet believed to be from an automatic weapon tore the bark off a nearby tree. A bloody handprint of one of the victims was left on the side of a tractor-trailer truck.

No witnesses to the shooting have been found, Hartford police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy said, though one woman interviewed Monday said she heard five shots and saw a white car speed off before police arrived. The woman asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Nineteen people have been shot in the city since May 24, three fatally. Hours before the two young men were killed, a man was wounded in an unrelated drive-by shooting Sunday night on Capitol Avenue.

Assistant Police Chief Daryl Roberts said some of the earlier incidents were characterized as gang related, but a preliminary investigation of Monday's deaths concluded, "we don't think it's like some of the other ones."

At press conferences in two North End neighborhoods - the corners of Albany Avenue and Vine Street, and Westland and Garden streets - there were appeals to talk to police and to stop the violence.

"I don't care what street you are from," said Lakeitha Ingram, the older sister of Kerry Foster Jr., who was killed during the Memorial Day weekend as he and a friend stood on the family's porch. "Those streets don't belong to [gangs] anyway. When you see it, you tell it."

To grasp the extent of the violence, Ingram challenged city youths to add up the number of RIP, or rest in peace, T-shirts they had collected. "Count them up," she said.

"We are here because we care," state Rep. Douglas McCrory said. "We are here to listen. We need for our young brothers to understand it's time to put the guns down. It's a responsibility as a people and a community to stop shooting."

McCrory said the elected leaders, clergy, social workers and activists who attended the Monday rallies are preparing a solution to the problem so "we won't be back here again next year." He said the leadership is preparing to form an umbrella organization called the "Coalition of Blacks Ready for Action" or COBRA. The group would help community-based organizations become more effective and more accountable. Those organizations are expected to receive more than $253 million in government money in the coming fiscal year for youth violence and other programs.

"When someone from outside our community is only thinking about locking up our kids as the answer, we are asking our kids what needs to be done," Green said.

The city has reached a crisis point when an entire community refuses to tell police what it witnessed, said Trevor Foster, the owner of Tru Books on North Main Street. "[Don't tell us] to stop snitching because your brother and your cousin is out there selling drugs. There's got to be a change. ... Somebody forgot these kids," Foster said.

Ashley Comer, a 12th-grader at Hartford Public High School, said the violence that took the lives of some of her friends has drained her of her tears. "I don't have anymore left."

People in the neighborhood where Burney and Oten lived stood outside of their doorways and on sidewalks Monday morning discussing how the violence had come to their neighborhood. Some lit memorial candles where the men fell.

Josue Rodriguez, 32, owner of Don Ramon Market on Main Street, waited for Burney about 8 a.m. Monday, the time he usually comes by the store to pick up a 50-cent drink and a cigarette before catching the city bus to classes at Capital Community College.

On the days Burney didn't have a dollar, he said, the young man walked for miles to his college. "He carried a dark gray book bag with him all the time. ... `I just want to stay in school and become somebody,"' Rodriguez said the broadcasting student told him.

Sometimes Burney would come into the store with Oten, and Rodriguez often told Oten that he would be a movie star someday. Rodriguez saw promise in the young men, both Weaver High School graduates.

"I know it's not drug related," Rodriguez said. "[Burney would] spend hours in my store. He was the kid I trusted. He was a good dude."

When Burney wasn't working at Dunkin' Donuts in Windsor, he was watching his younger brother and his niece, his grandmother, Mozella Hawkins, said. He had planned to go into the Army Reserve, she said, and received a call Monday that he had been accepted.

"He was a good kid," she said, overcome with grief. "He was following the right direction."

Gordon said her son attended school in Bristol before graduating from Weaver in 2004. He was working for Bank of America and was planning to attend college next semester.

Gordon warned Oten about hanging out. The streets they once nicknamed "Hooterville" because of their suburban-like qualities had started to change, she said, after an after-hours nightclub opened on Main Street. The people who went there littered her yard with liquor bottles, smoked marijuana and blasted their music at all hours, she said.

Still, Gordon said, her son and his friend stayed out of the fray. "He was no gang-banger," she said. "They weren't gang-bangers."

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.
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