For more than a decade Iran "Smurf" Nazario earned a reputation as a peacekeeper who mediated disputes before they could erupt into gang violence and counseled youths to stay away from that lifestyle.
Nazario had learned the lessons the hard way, serving federal time before pulling himself off the streets.
He was unable to do the same for his beloved older brother, Efrain "Smokey" Nazario, a 38-year-old career criminal who was fatally wounded Sunday following an altercation in Hartford's South End.
What happened to Efrain at New Britain Avenue and Julius Street is ripping at Nazario, who believes his brother — who got out of prison in November — had finally turned a corner.
"He tried real hard to change his life. Real hard," Iran, 37, said, during an interview Friday at breakfast on the day of his brother's wake.
When they were children being abused by their parents, Iran said, Efrain "would step in to take the blow."
After a party early Sunday, Iran said, Efrain died intervening in someone else's "beef."
"Smokey was fiery because of his attitude. He walked with no fear. If he thought you were in danger, he would stand in front of you. He knew nothing else."
Police said that about 6 a.m. on Sunday Efrain was found shot twice after, witnesses said, a fight broke out on New Britain Avenue following a party. The suspect, who was not identified by police, left and returned to the 100 block of New Britain Avenue, where he fired at Efrain five times, before driving away in a Subaru or Honda station wagon with a broken window. No one has been arrested in connection with Efrain's killing. He was shot in the abdomen and the buttocks.
Efrain Nazario's homicide was the city's third of 2008. It followed a year in which the city had 33 homicides, many involving gunshot wounds inflicted during street robberies, or brief drug-fueled altercations.
Before they were teenagers, the Nazario brothers and their 10 siblings were placed into foster care by the state. Iran and Efrain, who were less than one year apart, didn't stay in the system long. They ran away together, becoming homeless together on the streets of Hartford.
"He would drag me with him. We slept in cars. ... He kept us together through the abuse, through DCF. … At times I was scared in foster homes and he'd say, 'Yo, we're going to be all right.' That's my soul," Iran Nazario said as tears moistened his eyes.
When they went to prison, they joined the street gang Los Solidos — which would mark their lives in different ways.
After Iran's conviction in 1997, he came home from an 18-month stint in federal prison and again took up his work as a meditator for different organizations, including the city of Hartford. In the mid-1990s the Hartford Housing Authority hired him as a mediator. He was profiled in The Courant and The New York Times for his work with city youths and for his apparent turnaround.
Efrain stayed in trouble, getting arrested 11 times for carrying weapons, committing assaults and selling narcotics, criminal records show.
Being in prison was tough for Efrain, his brother said. He came home blinded in his right eye, the victim of prison violence.
Rather than be defeated, Iran said, Efrain went to the school for the blind and earned his GED. He was studying to fix computers when he was rearrested and sent back to prison for another two years. This time, his brother didn't coddle him. He stopped visiting and accepting his collect telephone calls.
"The last time he was in jail, it hit him hard," said Iran. He told his brother, "I'm going to let you feel tough love. You've never done a bid [time in prison] by yourself. You've got to change. You're only in your 30s; you can erase your past."
Efrain came home in June to a halfway house and immediately started working at McDonald's. He had been home about a week when he asked Iran if he could go with him to the hospital after a young man was shot outside a bar on Park Street. Efrain saw potential in the kind of work that Iran did.
Iran pushed his brother in that direction.
"He could do it. He had the talents and the gifts to make it. I needed him to be well," Iran said.
After five months of freedom, Efrain was returned to prison last summer after Gov. M. Jodi Rell halted paroles for violent offenders, and others were returned to prison to complete their sentences after two ex-convicts were accused of killing three members of a doctor's family in Cheshire.
Iran said he saw a change in his brother's attitude when Efrain finished his sentence in November 2007. Efrain had met another inmate, who knew where to find Efrain's 18-year-old daughter in Puerto Rico. He had planned to reconnect with her and his father, who also lives in Puerto Rico and whom he hadn't seen in 10 years.
All those things were signs of change to Iran. When Efrain asked about working with the Compass Collaborative, a Hartford-based nonprofit organization that assists children and for which Iran works, Iran told him he would help him prepare his resume.
Efrain was killed the day before he was expected to apply for the job.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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