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Students Matter-Of-Fact On Shootings

Police Boost Security, But Leaders See 'No Surprises'

November 22, 2005

As students at Hartford's Weaver High School headed to school Monday, they took the news that several of their peers had been shot in stride. The weekend shootings, they said, merely marked a new chapter in the same violence that has beset their neighborhood for years.

"I don't fear nothing," said sophomore Devon Laidlaw. "Ain't nobody after me. Wherever you go is gonna be beefs, so it don't really shock me."

And while police and school officials stepped up security, and neighborhood activists worked to prevent any further escalation of the violence, community leaders said they were not surprised by the students' attitude.

"There ain't no surprises no more," said the Rev. Donald Johnson, director of the HOPE Street Ministries anti-violence group in Hartford. "It's just become part of the general conversation. They are becoming immune to this. It's an everyday thing."

Police Monday were working to unravel a pair of weekend shootings that left five teenagers injured and may be related to a series of incidents at Weaver High School last week.

At Weaver, security guards used metal detecting wands to search students entering the school, while police increased patrols around Weaver and nearby Fox Middle School.

With the possibility the shootings were linked to simmering tensions between two rival North End groups, Principal Paul Stringer also announced the cancellation of Wednesday's pep rally for Thursday's football game against arch rival Hartford Public High School, as well as Friday night's homecoming dance.

The football game will go on, but there will be a strong police presence, Stringer said.

Stringer said he couldn't take the risk of kids retaliating against each other at the rally or the dance, though he felt sorry about punishing everyone for the actions of a small group. Many students, he said, have worked hard to develop cheers, dances and other routines to perform.

"But it doesn't make sense to play with the safety of staff and students," he said.

The news left students and parents distraught.

"Oh God, I'm speechless," said Sam Saylor, president of the district's PTO. "Paul has to be cautious. He has to keep kids safe ... but you disrupt the lives of everybody. Ninety-five percent of the kids who are good are entitled to a life."

The five teenagers were shot in two separate incidents within an hour of each other Saturday night. In one incident, at Keney Park, three boys aged 14 and 15, were ambushed as they walked to a basketball court. A half-hour later, two more youths, both 17, were shot on Vine Street.

None of the victims has died, though one of the victims of the Keney Park shooting was reported in serious condition. The three boys shot at the park attended Weaver, although police have not released their names.

Police haven't made any arrests in either incident, and it is not clear whether there is a connection between the two.

"We are pursuing every possible lead and development in this investigation, but there are no suspects in custody at this time," police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy said.

It is also not clear what instigated the shootings. Stringer said he assumes that a series of incidents at the school last week may be at the root of the strife, though he has no evidence to link the events.

On Monday of last week, Stringer said, a 15-year-old freshman who had been suspended from school boarded the school bus anyway. When his bus pulled alongside another bus outside the school, the boy pointed some sort of gun at students in the other bus, Stringer said.

A girl saw the gun, thought it was pointed at her and reported it to Stringer and to the police officer assigned to the school. The boy did not enter the school that day.

The next day, the police officer saw the boy attempting to board a school bus taking students home at the end of the day. She pulled the boy aside, discovered a BB gun in his possession and arrested him. The boy will be referred to district officials for an expulsion hearing, Stringer said.

On Thursday, some of the boy's friends confronted the girl who reported the gun to police and a loud verbal altercation ensued, Stringer said. It's possible, he suggested, that the tension between the girl's friends and the boy's friends escalated and played a role in the weekend shootings.

Even if the shootings are not connected to last week's incidents at Weaver, Eric Crawford, the district's violence prevention coordinator, said it illustrates the need find a way to keep students in school where they can learn and be supervised when they are suspended rather than sending them home where they may not have supervision and have nothing to do.

Community activists suspected the shootings might be linked to renewed tensions between rival groups from the Albany Avenue and Nelton Court areas, known respectively as "The Ave" and "Crookville."

The Rev. Cornell Lewis said members of the Men of Color, who patrol the streets to protect students as they walk to school, is increasing patrols in the area.

His group plans to start patrolling Vine and Mather streets and the Albany Avenue area with larger numbers of volunteers in the evening beginning Friday or Monday.

"We know from experience that when we get out there, things change and the negative activity eases up," he said.

Activists said the community and the school system also need to listen to women like Henrietta Beckman, whose son Randy was killed sitting in a car in the middle of the day on Barbour Street in 2002.

His killer was never found and she still doesn't know why he was shot.

Beckman, chairwoman of Mothers United Against Violence, still has three living sons, and she said she worries every day about their safety.

"My sons could be walking down the street and get shot for no reason," she said. "It shouldn't be like that."

Beckman said the group, which includes many women who have lost children to violence, brought a proposal to Hartford school officials in August to visit the schools and talk about their pain, sorrow and anger.

"But we never heard back. That's puzzling to me," said Henry Brown, director of Mothers United Against Violence.

If city residents helped police by passing on tips, that, too, would go a long way toward solving crime, Brown said; in many cases people don't want to turn in family members, especially when they are the ones paying for groceries, heat and the rent.

"They're the breadwinners," he said.

"We're a mile from the state Capitol," Brown said.

"There's something wrong with this picture."

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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