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Three schoolyard slayings bind Newark in mourning

The N.J. city honors the young victims and vows to stand against crime.

August 12, 2007|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

newark, n.j. -- A woman kissed the dead young man on his cheek as his body lay in a casket of silky white lining. From the church balcony, someone wailed. The casket closed, and the choir rose to its feet, rocking in song and shaking tambourines.

Speaking at his first of three funerals Saturday, Mayor Cory A. Booker's voice rose to a roar as he said of 20-year-old Dashon Harvey, a former drum major whom friends called Shawny: "He was a musician, he was a model, he embodied hope.

"We must stand up with his beauty, with his boldness, with his courage," he continued. "We must let his spirit continue to live in this city!"

The crowd cheered and shouted: "Yes!" "Amen!"

There was nothing joyous about the way Harvey and two of his friends died Aug. 4 -- forced to kneel on the ground in a schoolyard before being shot in the back of the head.

But with each funeral on Saturday, there was joy. It came in wistful smiles, when the mayor spoke of the young man who admired his dad and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It came in wild applause, when friends talked of the other young man, who had become an ordained minister, or of the young woman, who loved to sing, rap and dance.

Harvey, Terrance Aeriel, 18, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, became the 58th, 59th and 60th homicides in this city of 240,000 people this year. Their funerals were held one after another at different churches, giving mourners an opportunity to grieve for each of them separately.

Aeriel's 19-year-old sister, Natasha, was also shot in the head but survived. She is helping police with the investigation from her hospital bed.

The friends shared a love for music and a desire to make their imprint on this world. All four planned to attend Delaware State University in the fall.

An art display of music notes and records sat near Harvey's casket inside Metropolitan Baptist Church, and pictures of the part-time model posing in a sweater with a fashion book appeared on an overhead screen. He was a junior in college, pursuing a psychology degree.

At Terrance Aeriel's funeral a few miles away, a photo slide show flashed on a screen: Aeriel as a baby; as a marching-band member; on his way to prom. He played French horn, but his real passion was preaching. Friends said he recited Bible verses from memory.

At Hightower's funeral, a display showed a large picture of her in a flowing gown. The young woman who loved playing drums had also worked two jobs, at the airport and at a nursing home. She had recently been accepted to Delaware State.

Throughout the day, a spirit of urgency to stop the violence and death that has held this city hostage for years swept through churches and the community, with people spilling out into lobbies and onto sidewalks to pay tribute to the three shooting victims.

"I have a broken heart," said Gov. Jon Corzine, standing before a crowded church at Harvey's funeral.

Corzine asked the audience to use this tragedy as a motive to "pull our communities together, and that we stand together and that we reject the violence."

Police have arrested two 15-year-olds and 28-year-old Jose Carranza, who pleaded not guilty Friday to murder, attempted murder and weapons possession.

A warrant is out for one suspect. Community members and law enforcement officials have organized a $150,000 reward for information leading to arrests in the case.

At the time of the schoolyard killings, Carranza, an illegal immigrant from Peru, had been free on $150,000 bail on charges of aggravated assault and sexual abuse of a child. Newark residents have expressed outrage that he was allowed to walk the streets again.

Law officials have said that Carranza fell through the cracks of an overburdened system. On Friday, Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow acknowledged that the bail system needed to be reevaluated and said that Carranza would not be deported until his cases in Newark are resolved.

Carranza is being held on $1 million bail in the schoolyard killings.

Protesters last week marched on City Hall and called for Booker to step down. The 37-year-old mayor had made promises to curb violence in the city during his campaign more than a year ago. But despite his moves to put more police on the streets and launch an anonymous tip line, crime remains high.

On Saturday, Booker's impassioned speeches at all three funerals brought audiences to their feet in applause. Booker spoke of Aeriel, who had preached sermons at a local church and had spoken to friends about his faith in God.

"He inspired me to go back to the drawing board and see what I must do to continue his work," Booker yelled over the cheers. People stomped their feet and exclaimed, "Praise God!"

A few miles away at Grace Temple Baptist, reporters and community members crowded outside waiting for Hightower's casket to be driven to the burial. Inside the small white-stoned church, mourners honored the elected officials who showed up in a motorcade together.

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