Balloons, teddy bears and candles decorated the corner of a Hartford street where 3-year-old Randell Jones was shot and killed on Saturday afternoon.
Families and friends gathered Monday in a vigil organized by Mothers United Against Violence.
As friends and families consoled the boy’s mother, Solmary Cruz, her sister Johanna Vazquez said the family is raising funds to bury her nephew, whom she remembers as a happy child. His family affectionately called the toddler “Jun Jun.”
“He liked to play with the Legos, he used to like slushies -- he was a happy baby. What happened is just so hard,” said Vazquez.
Randell was a passenger in a car with his mother, two older siblings and a man who hasn’t been publicly identified by police. Another car drew alongside and shots were fired into their vehicle, fatally injuring the boy.
Two hours after the toddler’s death, 16-year-old Ja’mari Preston was also killed in a shooting about a mile away. Police believe the incidents in Hartford’s North end are related.
In an interview with Fox 61, Chief Jason Thody said police were able to get in touch with the man they believe was the intended target of the Nelson Street shooting. The department’s Crime Division completed search warrants for physical evidence of the vehicles involved. Thody said private video footage has advanced the investigation, adding that there will be an increased police presence in the North End.
The Rev. Henry Brown called on community members to help support the ongoing investigation of the shootings.
“This is very upsetting, my heart is heavy, I’m angry. There are so many emotions running through me right now,” said Brown. “But we’re going to get through it because we’re all going to ride it together and unify ourselves and make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen to another family in Hartford.”
September Chatfield says she cried when she found out the news through a Facebook post. She says she felt the family’s pain, remembering when her 7-year-old son was shot in the head in 2008.
“I felt their hurt because I know [how] I felt when I had to identify my son’s clothes. I didn’t know if he would live or die,” said Chatfield. “And I imagined that the family felt one hundred times worse than I did because my son actually survived.”
Moments later, she received a call notifying her the toddler was her young cousin.
Donnie Williams joined Mothers United Against Violence 18 years ago when her son was killed. She says this is a double loss.
“Not only for the parents of the person that [got killed] but the family whose relative did it. Now both families [will suffer] -- one is going to jail, and the other one is gone for life.”
Hartford City Council Majority Leader Thomas J. Clarke expressed his concern for the surge in violence.
“How many more times will mothers have to grieve because a loved one’s life has ended because of senseless acts of violence?” said Clarke. “It’s a dark day in this city. We’re facing two pandemics, COVID and gun violence.”
Police have appealed for witnesses to come forward.
Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.