HARTFORD, Conn. — The shooting deaths of a 3-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy in Hartford over the weekend were related, the city’s police chief announced Monday.
Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody broke the news to FOX61 News’ Tony Terzi before releasing a statement to the media Monday afternoon.
"I’m comfortable now saying that we have found information that connects those two incidents to one another," Thody said. "The degree of connection we’re not ready to talk about just yet."
The first shooting took place at 2:30 Saturday afternoon on Nelson Street, where a memorial for 3-year-old Randell Jones Jr. continues to grow.
"The victim's vehicle was parked and the stolen Honda accord came up right next to it," Thoday said.
The suspect vehicle pulled along the passenger side of a car carrying three young children, their mother, and an adult male passenger.
"The shooter actually fired from the backseat of the suspect vehicle and leans out the window actually and fires into the victim's vehicle," Thody said.
The toddler was not the target, Thody emphasized. It was the occupant of the front passenger seat.
Family members tell FOX61 Solmary Cruz had driven her three children - 3-year-old Randell, and daughters ages 4 and 5 – to a convenience store at the corner of Nelson St. and Garden St to meet up with their father, who was going to buy them ice cream.
Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. A woman, who asked not to be identified, was in the store when the incident went down.
"I thought it was firecrackers," the woman said Monday. "I did not know it was bullets. But then, I looked up at the camera in the store and I see the little baby."
She said she could tell the child was bleeding.
Then two hours later, and less than a mile away, another young life was lost, as 16-year-old Jamari Preston, whose last known address was in New Britain, was shot to death behind a two-family home on Magnolia Street.
Police say they have excellent surveillance video from both shooting scenes. These two homicides bring Hartford's total to eight this far in 2021.
When asked about the concerns from parents following the heartbreaking events earlier Monday, Thody told FOX61 News’ Keith McGilvery earlier Monday:
“We do as an urban police department deals with violence, but when you are talking about a 3-year-old - that is the definition of an innocent victim at its strongest," Thody said. "It pains me to hear that people are afraid, that is the two-pronged approach."
He continued: "We are trying to bring these folks to justice that perpetrated this heinous crime, but at the same time we have to reassure the city. There is an entire element of our police department that will be out there, talking with people today, making sure that we are visible, making sure that we are reassuring people that it is safe to go outside and that Hartford is a safe place."
Despite a known culture of silence in some urban communities, Thody is hopeful community cooperation will increase after these incidents.
“So I think we saw it grow, we saw some more involvement from the community, especially in the last couple of years, but I would be lying if I didn’t say George Floyd and the ramifications of that did polarize some people when it came to talking with police," Thody said. "We are building that back up it has been one of our focuses as we come into the new year, Is to rebuild that kind of trust and we do see cooperation, not as much as we would like to, but that culture of silence, if an innocent 3-year-old being shot does not break that culture of silence, I don’t know what will."
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