Community calls for solutions in wake of last week's murder of New London teen

Greg Smith, The Day, New London, Conn.
·3 min read

Feb. 23—NEW LONDON — One of the things youth mentor Ruben Johnson-Santiago noticed during a weekend vigil for 17-year-old shooting victim Ronde Ford was the colors.

The young teenage friends of Ford were not wearing the traditional green and gold of a New London Whaler. They wore red hats and bandanas, carried bottles of Hennessy and smoked pot in front of the police while some parents looked on.

Whether gang activity, as the red colors suggest, was a part of Ford's shooting death on Feb. 18 remains unclear, but Johnson-Santiago said there are "lost youth" in the city in need of guidance.

Johnson-Santiago was among a group of 20 people who gathered Monday at T.H.E. Church in downtown New London trying to to sort out the problem and find solutions. Johnson-Santiago and T.H.E. Church Pastor Angel Aybar organized the event they hoped would serve as a kickoff to a continued community conversation.

"Senseless. It shouldn't have happened," Johnson-Santiago said. "We need to get these kids back. Sit 'em down, find out who needs the help, what doors we need to knock on to get these kids back on track."

The theme of Monday's event was consistency and accountability, and Aybar said he expects formation of a group to meet on a regular basis to "reconstruct that bridge back to our youth."

"Tonight, the intention is to just have the conversation. If you came here thinking we're going to fix everything today, I'm sorry to let you down," Aybar said.

Ford was shot in the area of Grand and Elm streets and pronounced dead at the scene, not far from his family home. He was a senior at New London High School, attending remotely, a football player and aspiring rapper who family members said was a good kid despite some past brushes with the law and what his father called a "rapper persona."

City Council President Efrain Dominguez, a longtime educator and lifelong New London resident, called for community members to reach out to the youth involved with Ford to ensure the violence associated with the incident did not continue.

"We need to get in their faces — politely," Dominguez said. "We don't want anything else to happen."

Mayor Michael Passero called it an unspeakable tragedy and vowed to use all available resources in an attempt to reach those youth in the city before they they made a mistake "that irrevocably changes their future."

New London resident Derrick Strong said there needs to be a more persistent effort to give New London youth more experiences, whether it is trips to the water at places like Ocean Beach Park or vocational training from the city's largest employer, Electric Boat. He asked whether the city is doing enough to seek funding for youth programs and making use of all available spaces, like Riverside Park, to create places for youth recreation.

"The kids are not getting out of their comfort zone," Strong said.

Strong also wondered how much had changed in the city since the random murder of of 25-year-old Matthew Chew in 2010 by a group of teens.

g.smith@theday.com