Monday, August 6, 2007

They had a destination in life......

Four friends were hanging out, listening to music of the schoolyard of the Mount Vernon School, Newark NJ. Earlier that evening, one mother, Ms Tucker, had called them and asked that they bring back food, since they had said they were going out for something to eat. She last saw them at approximately 10:30 pm, when they said they were coming right back. At around 11:30 pm, Mumtaz Khan, 67, who lives nearby, stated he heard no more than five shots fired in rapid succession and some residents stated that they saw a group of men running from the school.

What authorities and residents found shortly after that, was the tragic murder of three friends and one survivor. Terrance Aeriel, 18, Iofemi Hightower, 20 and Deshawn Harvey, 20 all lay dead and Natasha Aeriel, 19, Terrance's sister was seriously wounded. Ms Hightower and the Aeriels grew up in the Vailsburg section of Newark where the shooting happened. All four friends had attended West Side High School and all were members of it's band. The Aeriels and Harvey attended Deleware State University and Ms Hightower had just been accepted and planned to begin classes there this fall.

"They had a goal, they had a purpose, they had a destination in life," stated the Aeriel's mother, Renee Tucker.

Natasha, a junior in college and a saxophone player, was pursuing a degree in psychology. She had traveled to Newark to visit for the weekend and had planned on returning to Deleware in time to work Monday at a Subway shop in Dover on Monday. Her brother Terrance, an avid Bible reader and trombone player, was set to begin his freshman year there and had planned to enter the business administration program there. Ms Hightower, a drum captain, had been working two jobs, one at a nursing home and the other in food-services for Continental Airlines and had planned to contiue working while going to school and sharing a room with Natasha.

The authorities report that the four friends were listening to music when they were gradually joined by a group of men. The four exchanged text messages saying that they should leave but before they could, they were attacked. The group shot one woman and then forced the others down an alley, lined them up against a wall, forced them to kneel and then shot each of them in the head. They were found near a set of bleachers at the edge of the schoolyard and pronounced dead at the scene. Natasha was found about 30 feet from her friends, suffering from a gunshot near an ear and knife wounds to her head and is listed in fair condition at University Hospital. The police hope to interview her again for more details once her condition improves.

"These kids were success stories," stated Mayor Cory A Booker.

As the investigation continues and new pieces to the puzzle of this tragedy are unearthed, one thing will not change.......... these four young people were success stories and I can only hope that they will continue to be shining examples of success, even after such tragic deaths.

Of note: Deleware State University plans to hold a memorial service August 28, after the student body returns for classes.

Update: posted August 7

Natasha Aeriel has been disjointedly providing Newark police with their only eyewitness account of the brutal shooting of her brother and two friends. She had been shot in the face and left for dead and has been slowly giving authorities more details through the pain medications her doctors have her on.

Police Director Garry McCarthy has stated that they have had several conversations with Natasha but it has been difficult for both since she has been through surgery and is heavily medicated. He said that they are doing their best to piece together the chain of events and details.

According to family members, the four usually hung out together on the weekends and this one was no different. The Aeriels and Hightower arrived to pick up Harvey and he told his aunt he would be back in a few hours. At 10:49 pm, Harvey sent a text message to a freind saying that he was hanging out a bit longer and would soon be home.

Police state that the group gathered around the bleachers to eat and drink around 11 pm. There were already two other men in the schoolyard, a place where neighbors say, young people commonly hung out. They could listen to music and hang out with friends there, sheilded from the street and not disturbing the neighbors.

After a few minutes there, more men arrived, as many a five total and the friends became nervous and texted each other, "Let's get out of here." At some point, the men who were armed with at least one gun and a knife, approached the group and announced that it was a robbery. It is still unclear as to what happened next but one resident of Tuxedo Place stated that at 11:20 pm, he heard a woman yelling "Don't do that, don't do that," repeatedly. He said it went quiet for about three minutes and then began again, followed quickly by four shots and he called 911. Police state that the knife wounds on Hightower's forearms and the broken jewelry scattered on the ground support the idea that there had been a struggle.

There were no shell casings found at the scene but the police are processing other evidence they have collected. McCarthy states that there is nothing in their investigation at this time that points to the group of friends being targeted for the crime. He believes at this point it is a random robbery and that when there was resistance at some point, it escalated to the killings. He also played down speculation that it is a result of gang activity since they believe the area is not connected to any gangs.

Gov Jon Corzine has also spoken out against the violence in a statement Monday. He stated that the three students had been "taken from us in the most cold-hearted and cowardly manner imaginable." He added that the killings "reflect a basic disregard of some for human life, and I have to say it is beyond comprehension."

On Saturday night, John McClain went to bed early to get well rested for church. Sunday, McClain, the pastor of Grace Temple Bapist Church, and police chaplain for over 30 years, discovered that his neice, Iofemi was one of the victims. Monday morning found him at the Mount Vernon School, as the most senior member of the police clergy team, helping to lend spiritual support to the surrounding community. He described his niece Iofemi as a good girl who had plans and wished he had known before his service, so that he could have asked the congregation to pray for her and her friends.

"We're over in Iraq fighting terrorists, but we have terrorists right here. That's what it is. Terrorism. We should worry about
getting the guns off our own streets," stated McClain.

There have been calls for Mayor Cory Booker to resign after these murders which bring the city total to 60 for the year. Others want the mayor to stay and combat the violence with suggestions running from more patrols, a curfew, sending in the state troopers that Gov Jon Corzine has offered.

"It is not due to a lack of resources. It's young people out there armed to the gills... got no respect for human life and they kill one another at will," stated Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.

It makes no matter at the moment, what the arguments are for "what should have been done." It matters what can be done so that we don't lose more young people with promise, with dreams.... with a destination in the future.

Update: posted Aug 8

The spokeswoman for Mayor Cory A Booker announced today that the police are close to making one arrest in the horrific, execution-style killings of three college students. Lupe Todd stated that she did not know when the announcement of an arrest would come or how the possible break in the case occured.

The New York Times has reported that Natasha, who remains hosiptalized and under police protection, has been able to assist the authorities in their investigation with her account of the shootings. Unfortunately, two of the three security cameras that were pointed into the schoolyard were not working at the time and therefore, recorded no information of the brutal crime.

In a city that seems to have become accustomed to violence and shootings, Saturday's shootings have touched more than a nerve within the neighborhoods. Maybe, it will become the cornerstone of real change that combats the violence within the city.

There is a reward of more than $50,000 for information regarding this case.


The two cameras at Mount Vernon School that were not working are belived to have been tampered with. They were found hanging by their wires by technicians according to Willie Freeman, director of Security for the Newark school district. He stated that the security guard had not noticed any damage to them on friday and most schools that have had them damaged before have a security cage installed arounf them. The lack of any cages at that school means that there have been no prior acts of vandalism there.

The Star-Ledger of Newark has reported that Natasha had picked out one of the suspects from a photo array and police have stated that they were able to lift a fingerprint from a beer bottle at the scene. Mayor Cory A Booker and the Essex County Prosecutor's office have both declined to confirm the report in the Star-Ledger.

Of note: All three victims, Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower will be buried in seperate ceremonies on Saturday.

1 comment:

BrillStreet said...

We can only hope that they catch all of these animals and hang them in the same schoolyard. As long as garbage like these killers feel free to roam the streets of Newark. terrorizing the hard working people who form the backbone of the the city, parts of Newark will remain uncivilized, unlivable black holes. Ivy Hill used to be a nice neighborhood when it was filled with European immigrants and it should be no different for todays new Newarkers. I'm glad that Cory Booker seems intent on making some real progress on restoring some of these lost neighborhoods and bringing the hammer dwon on the trash that's polluting our city. He should take Corzine up on his offer of State Police patrols and do whayever he can do to eradicate this plague. Newark will ony be great again when the average good people of this city don't have to be afraid to leave their homes and walk their streets.