May 31, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
Kerry Foster Jr., 15, and Cinque Sutherland, 14, weren't soldiers of the three "crews" police say have been tearing several neighborhoods in the North End of Hartford apart with gunfire for five days.
They were two kids, students at Fox Middle School, who officials say became innocent victims in a shooting war that is escalating for no apparent reason. Kerry was killed on the front porch of his Clark Street home Monday in a drive-by shooting; Cinque, who lives across the street and was with Kerry, was seriously injured and remains hospitalized.
The loose-knit neighborhood alliances, different from the more organized gangs of the early 1990s, at the center of the violence include "The Ave." from Albany Avenue, "CNN" from the Nelton Court housing project and "West Hell" from Westland Street and bordering streets, Hartford Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett said Tuesday.
All told, 16 people have been shot since May 24. No arrests have been made.
"Within those areas there are groups of young people, and a small group within that group of young people who have a disregard for human life, and they can go back and forth and just shoot randomly at people on the street," Harnett said at a city hall news conference. "That is what has happened on a couple of these shootings that took place since Wednesday."
During the news conference, Harnett and Mayor Eddie A. Perez - who said the city won't tolerate those "who terrorize neighborhoods" - announced that the Hartford Police Department would put more officers on the street, adding a special team to target youth violence 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Perez appealed to the public for any information that can help police. He promised that people who cooperate will get the assistance of the state's witness protection program.
"It's your home," Harnett said. "Pick up the phone."
Perez and Harnett each met Tuesday with Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano, who said he would work with the Hartford state's attorney to prosecute youngsters as young as 14 if they were arrested for serious crimes involving guns.
Morano said the level of street violence over the past week reminded him of the gangs that terrorized Hartford in the early 1990s, and the news these days out of Baghdad.
Morano, describing those involved in the violence as "loose-knit groups rumbling with guns," said, "Right now, we need to remove them from this community."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered Perez state police assistance if needed.
While public officials promised action, friends, family and people at Fox Middle School mourned the loss of Kerry Foster, described by many as well-liked.
At Fox Tuesday, young girls wept as administrators and social workers tried to comfort them. Only a week ago, people in the school attended the funeral of Nick Oliver, 15, who was shot April 13 and appeared to be recovering before he died May 15.
Vice Principal Sheldon Neal said he was profoundly touched by Kerry, who would show up in his office "just to chill," had a way with the girls and seemed to be going in the right direction.
"He was the peacemaker," Neal said. Sometimes, when arguments heated up in the hallway, "KJ jumped in the middle. He'd help to defuse that kind of stuff. He broke up some fights," Neal said.
His gift of gab led teacher Tiffany Washington to speculate that Kerry had the skills of a promising lawyer. "He would talk to the wall if he had to," she said. "He was very bright and said insightful things."
Washington, who taught Kerry English last year, said he was both intelligent and playful. Many times, she said, she had to tell him to "give someone else a chance" when the class was discussing a book.
The teen's death comes just days after he dressed up for the semi-formal at the school, where he had perfect attendance and average grades. His teachers say he was on the road to college, and he had enrolled at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford next fall.
Now, that he's gone, Washington said, "it feels like a light went out."
Family members declined to be interviewed, but officials said Kerry came from a strong family. His father, Kerry Foster Sr., is a city firefighter and worked hard to make sure his son stayed out of trouble, the officials said.
As police prepared to crack down on the shootings, others said the city must face longer-term issues as well.
"Something needs to be done immediately to address the violence," Fox Middle School Principal Andrew Serrao said. "Once that is addressed, we have to make sure the groups are connected to [people who] have a positive influence on their lives."
Neal said he suspects that the violence is a result of a "whole subculture that is driving [youths] to destruction. We've got to penetrate this subculture that involved the music, the games and TV. It's the community that has to come together."
Eric Crawford, the Hartford school district's intervention specialist, said the 16 shootings highlight a segment of the population that is "addicted to negativity. ... This is an epidemic. We need to think of this as a mental health issue. These kids are addicted to this lifestyle and the violence associated with it."
Now, Crawford said, is the perfect time to educate the students and parents who aren't involved so they can stand up against violent youngsters.
Staff Writer Daniel Goren contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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