Surrounded by relatives of the victims of various Hartford shootings over the past two decades, Henrietta Beckman said Saturday that she’d never encountered a gun death as shocking as the loss of little Randell Tarez Jones last weekend.
“In our city, I think that’s the worst one,” Beckman said at a Mothers United Against Violence gathering in the North End.
“A 3-year-old child ... an innocent child ... losing his life,” Beckman said, her voice briefly faltering. “The kids have nothing to do with this madness.”
Beckman and Rev. Henry Brown, the co-founders of Mothers United Against Violence, on Saturday led a caravan slowly through the streets of downtown, the South End and the North End. Escorted by Hartford police, they hoped to get out a message: Stop the shooting.
Cars were marked with the names or images of people shot to death in the city over the years, and passengers leaned out windows to hold up white crosses marked with the names of others.
“We just have to do something to stop this,” Beckman said after the group stopped for a rally at Garden Street, about a block from where Randell was killed a week before.
The toddler had been in a car with his mother, two siblings and a male passenger who police believe was the intended target. Just a couple of hours later, Ja’Mari Preston, 16, was fatally shot at Magnolia and Mather streets, about a mile away.
Mary May of Bloomfield said Saturday that people who know about who fired those bullets simply have to come forward. May knows the survivors’ pain: She lost her grandson, 28-year-old Corey Farrah Abdi Aziz, to a shooting in Hartford in January, and her 21-year-old granddaughter to a drive-by shooting in Atlanta two years earlier.
“I’m still mourning my grandson; I’m still mourning my granddaughter. But when I see this little baby’s life taken by these gangbangers, these drug dealers, these thugs ... if you know something, you say something,” she said. “Call a name, point a finger.”
“That’s the only way you’re going to solve this. You can’t keep covering up for criminals,” Beckman said.
“If you know someone who is murdering people, you’ve got to turn them in. You can’t just keep that quiet. A lot of people who commit murder, if they don’t get apprehended quickly, they kill again.”
Since her own son, 20-year-old Randy, was fatally shot in 2002, Beckman has closely followed every fatal shooting in Hartford, looking to console new families that are abruptly plunged into that same grief. And every year, she and Brown call on people who live in the city for two things: Get guns out of their lives, and turn in the shooters after a crime.
“When you have a gun in your possession and you use it, you can’t bring back that life you took,” Beckman said.
Mayor Luke Bronin, who joined the caravan in his city car, said police, youth workers, social service agencies and groups like Mothers United Against Violence have all been working relentlessly in the past week.
“The causes and the roots of violence are deep and they’re complex,” said Bronin. “We’re work hard on a whole of fronts.”
Beckman said she hurts for all of the children who’ve lost parents to shootings. Her grandson is now 19, just a year younger than his father was when he was killed. She said she’s proud of her grandson, but wonders about what his childhood could have been like.
“I look at him and I think, ‘You just don’t know what you’d be if your dad was here,’“ she said.