November 19, 2005
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
While police looked for the man who shot and critically wounded a mother during a carjacking outside a Hartford school, counselors worked through the day Friday to help children at the school deal with their fear.
"Right now it is a tragic situation, especially since this happened at a school," Deputy Chief Daryl K. Roberts said. "Who ever did this is a coward. A despicable individual did this and ran away. As far as we know, she was an innocent victim."
Jewel Cooper, a social worker with the state Department of Children and Families, was attacked Thursday about 3:15 p.m. as she picked up her daughter at the Hartford Area Seventh Day Adventist School on Woodland Street.
While police officers stood watch outside the school Friday, city officials and counselors met with school officials, parents and students.
"Some were crying. Some didn't understand their feelings," Chuck Cummings, a city violence intervention worker, said about the eighth-graders. "We wanted to make them understand that their feelings were normal and there was no reason to be embarrassed."
Children who attend the private religious school told counselors that before Thursday they thought they were insulated from such attacks at their school. Although the city's North End has been the scene of a number of shootings, the brazen daylight attack on a mother outside a school was described by police as highly unusual.
"I wanted to help the students to get into the mindset that you don't have to be afraid," said Cummings, one of 10 crisis workers who met with pupils at the school.
Pollyanna Barnes, superintendent for the area's Seventh Day Adventist schools, said school officials were grateful that area social workers and counselors from local hospitals, charities and community groups came to help.
"We were able to integrate the spiritual and psychological aspects of dealing with this," said Barnes, who met with the children after the daily morning devotion. Individual counseling and beefed-up security by the Hartford Police Department will continue at the school.
Cooper, 33, of Hartford, had put her 8-year-old daughter into the car when she was attacked by a man who beat her before shooting her in the side. Cooper, who witnesses said fought back, remained in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit Friday at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, police said.
The assailant was described as a black man, about 6 feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, wearing dark clothing and a hood over his face.
"We believe she wasn't fighting for her car but for her child," said Duckworth Grange, a community relations liaison for the state Department of Children and Families who worked with Cooper. Cooper's daughter escaped from the car before it was taken and was not harmed.
While school officials were coping with the aftermath of what police are calling an "unusual" attack, detectives were struggling to identify the gunman who stole Cooper's green BMW sports utility vehicle. The vehicle was recovered on Ogilvy Drive, less than a mile away.
"We are actively pursuing the investigation," said Lt. Achilles Rethis, the commander of the Hartford Police Department's major crimes division. Rethis urged anyone with information about the attack to call Detective Paul Cicero at 860-527-7300.
Mayor Eddie Perez, who visited the family at the hospital and the school Friday, said he left feeling confident that the students and teachers at the school "feel safe and are dealing with it in a positive manner."
He said he is confident that police are doing everything they can to catch the assailant.
"Any incident like this is one too many," Perez said.
Cooper was described as a soft-spoken worker who diligently handled her caseload as a social worker with DCF. Cooper is a graduate of the University of Hartford. She has worked for DCF since September 1999, a department spokesman said.
"I believe that this was not work-related," said Gary Kleeblatt, who declined to say whether Cooper had trouble with any of her clients.
Grange said the incident has been "emotionally tough" on her co-workers. "She was a fantastic problem-solver," he said. "She was liked by everybody."
"She was a very positive young lady," said Nantambu Satchidananda, another co-worker, who described Cooper as a loving mother who displayed pictures of her children on her desk at work in Hartford's DCF office.
The fact that Cooper was attacked outside of the school sparked some angry remarks from Henry Brown, an organizer of a rally outside the school Friday. He lashed out at the unnamed attacker and said that the public, especially men in the city, have a responsibility to protect women in the city.
"I call on the men to stand up and to be accountable in the city of Hartford," Brown said.
Angie Sutton, another speaker at the rally, said the incident was serious enough for officials to "declare a state of emergency."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at