the neighborhoods of the city's North End, this handgun was passed
from one hand to the next, leaving a trail of shell casings and
plenty of blood.
As Hartford police investigated
a series of shootings over seven months in 2002, the gun got
their attention. It was a sleek, black Glock 9mm.
By the end of the year, it would
be used to shoot 11 young men. Two of them died. Even though
the cops eventually got the Glock off the streets, they were
never able to figure out exactly how many gunmen used the gun
in the course of its bloody spree.
They arrested four men on charges
of illegally possessing the Glock, including a teenager who was
convicted Thursday of using it to shoot and kill a man from the
suburbs who had come to Hartford to buy drugs.
But the cops came to believe that
it had been in more hands than that, many more.
They gave it a label. A "community
gun," they called it, the kind of gun that falls into the
wrong hands and then is loaned out, "rented" or sold
within a circle of young men who hang out together on the street.
The gun came to exemplify the difficulty
that cities such as Hartford have in keeping guns out of the
hands of young people.
But all that came later. In May
2002, when police responded to the shooting of a young man at
Garden and Capen streets, they had no reason to believe they
were dealing with anything unusual.
It seemed like another dime-a-dozen
shooting with another dime-a-dozen gun.
The Trail Begins
The corner at Garden and Capen is
one of the busiest intersections in the North End, a place where
the traffic rarely dies down and people bustle in and out of
the mom-and-pop shops that line the sidewalks.
But late at night, the thumping
of car stereos and the shouting and laughter of people eventually
give way to quiet. Which is why the pop-pop of gunfire shortly
before midnight on May 21, 2002, drove people out of bed to call
Before the cops arrived, the shooting
victim, 23-year-old Edward Bennett, had staggered to his home
several blocks away on Acton Street, bleeding from gunshot wounds
in his shoulder and back.
One of Bennett's relatives called
911, and police raced to his home on the second floor of a rundown
apartment house. Bennett told officers, "I ain't telling
you ... nothing," then demanded an ambulance.
But as paramedics were treating
him, Bennett gave the cops some information. He told them he
and his "boy," an unidentified friend, had been sitting
in a parked car at Garden and Capen when a gunman walked up to
them and opened fire. The friend, who was not hit, refused to
tell the cops anything - an all-too-common response in the city.
Bennett was taken to the hospital,
and detectives went to the shooting scene to scour the area for
Amid the discarded cigarette packs
and food wrappers that littered the sidewalk, detectives found
several shell casings from a handgun, though police couldn't
tell exactly what kind of handgun they had come from.
The detectives collected the casings,
making sure each was properly marked and recorded as evidence,
the same routine as in any other shooting. The casings would
be sent to the state police forensics laboratory for ballistics
testing to see if they had markings that could be matched to
a particular gun, maybe one that had been used in other shootings.
The testing, which analyzes the
unique markings left on the casings by a gun's firing pin, would
take weeks to complete because of the painstaking nature of the
work. But detectives had no reason at that point to make the
Bennett shooting a higher priority than other cases, so they
continued looking for witnesses and pumping Bennett for more
Whoever used the Glock that night
kept it in circulation. It would be heard from again, soon.
Little To Go On
Just a few blocks from Garden and
Capen, on a downtrodden stretch of Enfield Street, 16-year-old
Matthew Cauley was standing astride his bicycle while talking
to a group of friends. It was about an hour past midnight on
Sunday, June 30, and the air was heavy and humid.
Cauley, a student at Weaver High
School, glared as a car full of young men slowly drove past.
The men in the car glared back, but the car kept rolling.
A few minutes later, the car returned,
and Cauley and his friends could see that the men inside were
concealing their faces with the hoods of their sweat shirts -
a sure sign that trouble was about to pop.
One of the men pointed a gun out
of the car's window and announced, "We're back. ... What
you gonna do?"
Then gunfire erupted, and Cauley,
grimacing in pain, fell to the pavement, hit in the arm and leg.
When the police arrived, they couldn't
get any of the kids who were hanging out with Cauley to give
them a good description of the men in the car. The case was closed
a few months later when Cauley told police he didn't want the
investigation to go any further.
Like other kids who get shot in
Hartford, Cauley felt it would be safer for him not to talk because
he didn't want to labeled as a "snitch."
But at least one of the kids was
willing to cooperate a little the night Cauley was shot, showing
cops where the shooting had taken place. Detectives found several
shell casings and submitted them to the forensics lab.
As with the Bennett case, the casings
appeared to be from a handgun - maybe a Glock - but that was
about all detectives could find out.
At the forensics lab in Meriden,
ballistics expert Jim Stephenson began comparing the shell casings
from the Bennett shooting with those taken from the Cauley shooting.
It would be weeks before his analysis, which required microscopic
examination of the markings on each of the shell casings, would
And the Glock was still out there.
Two weeks later, on another humid
night, 30-year-old Eugene Williams was walking with his friend
Willie Kinder, 30, on Garden Street when a car approached them
Williams told police he and his
friend sensed there might be trouble when the car's headlights
flicked off as it rolled up alongside them.
"I had a funny feeling and
I was thinking that the people in the car were going to rob us
and take our little bit of money," Williams said. "Willie
must have been thinking the same thing when he saw the car because
he said, `Oh, it's about to go down.'"
Several young men sat in the car,
all of them wearing dark sweat shirts. Two of them pointed guns
out the window and started firing.
Williams, shot in the thigh,
fell to the ground. So did Kinder. The gunmen continued firing,
then drove away.
"We were like playing possum
and they just shot at us and then drove off," Williams said.
He and Kinder helped detectives
locate more than a dozen shell casings on the street. The detectives
once more collected the casings - more remnants of handgun ammunition
- and submitted them to the lab.
They again put their faith in Stephenson
and other experts at the state ballistics lab.
Bullet fragments found at many of
the crime scenes were too damaged to test. So, using a sophisticated
new computer system, Stephenson set out to create digital images
of the shell casings to determine if the markings would match
up. Then he would have to line them up himself, under a microscope,
to know for sure.
A Mysterious Figure
The heat of summer had taken a thorough
hold of the city by the end of July that year. The only relief
for many residents came late at night, when the air cooled down
Darrell Hundley, 24, was one of
several people hanging out on Elmer Street in the predawn hours
of July 31. He was sitting on a lawn chair beneath the glare
of a streetlight, talking to some girls in a parked car.
Suddenly everyone scattered as gunshots
erupted from across the street. Hundley, whose twin brother was
shot and killed in Hartford in 1995, jumped into the back of
the girls' car after a bullet struck him in the ankle.
His friends drove him to the hospital,
where they told police they saw a shadowy figure firing shots
from a shaded area between houses. But they said it was too dark
to see who the gunman was.
Detectives found shell casings in
the grass and submitted them to the lab. For the cops, the summer
was shaping up to be a hot one, and not just in terms of the
weather. After a relatively peaceful spring, the number of shootings
in the city was beginning to rise, due largely to an outbreak
of turf wars and robberies among rival groups of young men in
the North End.
The Glock was right in the middle
A Break, At Last
A week later, 16-year-old Albert
Perry and his friend 17-year-old Alvin Wilson were walking from
a convenience store on Albany Avenue, where they had gone to
buy snacks about 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 7.
On a dark stretch of Magnolia Street,
a masked gunman ran up to them and ordered them to sit on the
ground. He told the teens to hand over the cash in their pockets.
Perry later told the cops he gave
up his cash, but Wilson refused. The gunman opened fire, shooting
Wilson twice and grazing Perry on the hand. Doctors had to remove
Wilson's right kidney and repair punctures to his liver and diaphragm.
At the scene, detectives recovered
a single shell casing, which went to the forensics lab.
Police were still waiting for the
lab results when, on Aug. 12, they were sent to Milford Street
to investigate the shootings of Donald Raynor, 17, and Timothy
Browdy, 21. The cousins had been talking to each other when a
gunman shot at both of them from a passing car.
Raynor told the cops he heard the
glass shatter in the car he was sitting in, then spotted a green
car speeding away as he realized he was shot in the upper back.
Browdy, who suffered more serious injuries after being shot in
the stomach, provided few other details when he was interviewed
several weeks later.
Detectives were gathering shell
casings from the scene when Stephenson called to give them the
test results for which they had been waiting 11 weeks.
The casings collected at the
shootings between May 21 and Aug. 7 were fired from the same gun,
More particularly, he said, the
gun was a Glock 9mm, Model 17, that appeared to be several years
Finally, a breakthrough.
"It was a `eureka!' moment," said
Stephenson, a former New Haven detective who has become a national
expert in ballistics testing. "The evidence spoke for itself."
The Glock, Easy To Get
A few weeks later, Stephenson contacted
the Hartford detectives again to let them know the same gun had
been used to shoot Raynor and Browdy, as well as Joseph St. Pierre,
36, who was wounded at the corner of Asylum Avenue and Sigourney
Street on Sept. 12.
Now, detectives knew that a single
gun had been used to shoot eight people in the course of 16 weeks.
And even though they had not made any arrests, they were beginning
to get the idea that more than one person was using it.
They pressed informants on the street
for information on who might have the Glock. The informants,
along with some of the witnesses in the shootings, said the gun
was changing hands among a group of men in their teens and early
20s who hung out on Oakland Terrace and other side streets off
Albany Avenue. Police learned that some of them had been feuding
with rival groups of youths who lived near Enfield Street and
Barbour Street, which may have explained some of the shootings
in those neighborhoods.
The night he was shot, Perry told
detectives he suspected the gunman was a guy who lived along
Albany Avenue who regularly robbed people. Though he did not
give the cops a name, Perry said the gunman had told him and
Wilson that the black handgun he was pointing at them "was
not his but he could get it anytime he wanted to."
That tip from Perry gave the cops
a glimpse into the countless ways that illegal guns reached the
city's streets and then changed hands.
There is no single pipeline for
guns into Hartford that can be easily plugged; there are so many
streams into the city that law enforcement officials admit they
pretty much have to search for illegal guns one at a time. Ammunition
is easy to get, too.
"Tracing a gun is like trying
to trace a dollar bill," said Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney
for Connecticut. "Guns can find their way to the streets
in dozens of ways, hundreds of ways."
Detectives know many of the guns
on the street had been stolen in house burglaries, while others
had been bought in illegal "straw" purchases in which
a legitimate buyer purchases a gun and then gives it to someone
Others get their hands on guns by
making connections in states where gun-buying laws are more lenient
than Connecticut, such as Vermont, or Southern states such as
South Carolina. They might go to those states and buy several
guns to bring back to Hartford, or they might ask relatives who
live in those states to buy guns for them.
Some teens and young adults get
pretty creative. Some trade heroin or crack for guns. In 2003,
a 15-year-old boy arranged to rent a handgun for $40 from a Hartford
man for a week. The boy, who lived in Wethersfield but went to
Hartford every day to deal drugs on Farmington Avenue, later
pleaded guilty to manslaughter after he used the gun to kill
another man he was trying to rob.
"If people want a gun, they're
gonna get it," said Robert Taylor, 37, who used to sell
drugs in a North End housing project and continues to stay close
to friends who trade in guns and drugs. "These kids feel
they're vulnerable without a gun."
Contrary to popular perception,
Taylor said, buying a gun in Hartford is not a simple matter.
"You can't just walk up to
somebody on the corner and get him to sell you a gun," he
said. "They might think you're a cop, or working for a cop.
You have to know somebody first."
Detectives tracing the Glock found
that it came from a plant in Georgia and was first sold at a
gun shop in Virginia in 1991. From there, the trail went cold.
They never learned how it made its way to Hartford.
Through the fall of 2002, those
who had been shot by the Glock had all recovered. But that was
about to change.
On Dec. 5, Stacey McDonald, 20,
was driving with a girlfriend down Granby Street about an hour
before the sun came up. As he cruised toward the intersection
of Granby and Plainfield streets, McDonald was shot in the head
by a gunman firing from a passing car. He died instantly as his
car crashed into a utility pole about a block from an elementary
Detectives canvassed the scene that
morning as curious schoolchildren walked by. They gathered more
shell casings that seemed to be a match for a Glock and submitted
them to the lab.
Then, on a bitter cold night just
a couple of days after Christmas, 31-year-old Scott Houle of
East Hampton turned his car onto Cabot Street hoping to find
someone to sell him crack. It was past midnight, but Houle spotted
a group of teenagers leaving an apartment house.
The group included 16-year-old Rondell
Bonner and his 15-year-old uncle, Calvin King. Just minutes before,
Bonner had been holding the Glock, toying with it as some of
the other kids scrawled graffiti on the mailboxes in the building's
As they saw Houle approaching in
his Kia Sportage, Bonner and King flagged him down to sell him
drugs. Bonner handed him a plastic bag full of crack as they
negotiated a price.
Then things got tense, and one of
the boys shouted, "He's trying to play us!" Bonner
pulled the Glock from the waistline of his pants, and, police
say, he and King, who also had a gun, began firing. Houle, a
father of four young girls, was shot in the head and died as
his car slid into a fence.
Bonner and King raced to Bonner's
home on Sargeant Street, where they changed clothes. Police say
Bonner, who would be arrested three months later after detectives
tracked down witnesses to the crime, gave the Glock to King and
told him to sell it.
Stacey McDonald's mother, Sarah
Johnson-Ellis, said the case of the Glock shows Hartford has
become too dangerous for families who want to keep their children
"Look at all the people who
were harmed by this gun. And it was just one gun," said
Johnson-Ellis, who moved to Georgia after her grandson was shot
and killed a few months after McDonald's slaying. "It's
too much. All the kids have guns now, it seems like."
In the course of seven months, the
Glock had been used to wound nine people and kill two. Houle
would be the final victim.
It would take months more for police
to finally get the Glock off the streets.
Seizing The Glock
In March of 2003, police arrested
Bonner on a murder charge, though King had not yet been linked
to the crime.
The same month, police say, King
was allegedly selling the Glock to Tyree Downer, who lived in
the same neighborhood where the gun was circulating.
Downer bought the gun for $400.
He sold it in May to Eon Whitley, 26, who knew Downer from the
time they served together in a juvenile detention facility. Police
say Whitley bought the gun for $350 while they ate lunch at a
By that time, the cops had been
able to link the gun to Downer through informants. When they
questioned him, Downer said he had already sold it to Whitley.
They were getting closer, but when
police pulled Whitley over during a traffic stop in July, he
said he had already sold it for $400 to Robert Crowe, 29, who
lived near Downer.
Facing a possible charge of illegally
buying and selling a handgun, Whitley agreed to set up a buy
In late July, Whitley met with Crowe
on Winter Street and bought the gun back for $395. Whitley turned
the gun over to police, who submitted it for testing. Bonner,
King, Downer and Crowe were all charged with illegally possessing
the Glock. Whitley was not charged, after cooperating with police.
Downer was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison in
2004. Crowe was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
No one has been charged in connection
with McDonald's death or the shootings of the other nine victims.
But the community gun was off the
It's now in a cardboard box, evidence
at Superior Court in Hartford- Exhibit A in the murder trials
of Bonner and of King, who was arrested on a murder charge in
2004. Bonner was convicted Thursday of illegally possessing the
Glock and killing Houle. King is awaiting trial on charges of
criminal possession of the Glock and killing Houle.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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