When New London celebrates Halloween this year, there will be many people recognizing a tragic day among the celebrations. Saturday marks one year since 25-year-old Matthew Chew, walking to his apartment on Huntington Street after finishing his job as a chef at , was attacked and stabbed six times. He was taken to , flown to Yale-New Haven Hospital in an attempt to save his life, and died of his injuries early in the morning of Oct. 30, 2010.
Exactly one month later, the arrested six teenagers in connection with the death. The arrests and the alleged lack of motive aside from boredom and the decision to assault a random person were a shock to the city. Discussions immediately began about what could be done to have the city’s youth engaged in activities, what could be done to improve public safety, how the community could better reach out to youth, and a variety of other topics.
Mayor Martin Olsen said he felt the reaction of the community was one of people banding together after a tragedy to do good works in Chew’s memory.
“I think that the city has changed,” he said. “I think there’s certainly a heightened awareness that folks have when they are in New London. But I think it’s a positive thing. I think it’s also galvanized and gotten people working together from all quarters of the community.”
In both the court cases of the six men charged in Chew’s murder and the initiatives proposed in the wake of the tragedy, progress has taken place in some areas and moved slowly in others. For those who are working on improving the safety and youth engagement in the city, however, change is there to see.
The court cases
When the arrests of the men were announced on Nov. 30, two were directly charged with Chew’s murder while four were charged with complicity in the murder. Those charged are:
- Tyree Bundy, 18, of 93 State Pier Road: accessory to murder, conspiracy to commit murder
- Idris Elahi, 18, of 20 Home Street: murder, conspiracy to commit murder
- Matias Perry, 18, of 36 Wasau Place: accessory to murder
- Rashad Perry (no relation), 18, of 281 Crystal Avenue: accessory to murder
- Brian Rabell, 19, of 93 State Pier Road: accessory to murder
- Marquis Singleton, 18, of 50 Mountain Avenue: murder
Not guilty pleas have been entered in each of the cases, and all remain in the pre-trial phase. The men are all kept separate, with no more than one of the cases appearing on any given docket at the . Aside from some standard motions and a reduction in Singleton’s bond from $1.25 million to $500,000 cash or surety, there have been few developments in the cases against any of the six defendants.
relates how investigators charged the men based on evidence such as surveillance camera footage, text messages, and interviews with the men and their relatives and friends. A friend of Elahi’s told police that Elahi said “something about doing it because they were bored and that they didn’t know the victim.”
At in February, three of Elahi’s co-defendants testified that the group met at Elahi’s house to play video games and television before leaving with the intent to assault a random person. Bundy, Rabell, and Singleton said the men went downtown and decided there were too many people there, started to follow a person on Washington Street before he got into his car, and eventually found and attacked Chew on Huntington Street.
Rabell, who testified along with Singleton that Rashad had dared Elahi to stab someone during the evening, said he stopped them from making an oath to do so. Rabell also offered an apology to Chew’s parents at the hearing, saying the murder was not planned and that he should have taken more responsibility for himself and his friends.
The young ages of the defendants, as well as the fact that they were current or former students of the , raised concerns on how the city can better provide for the city’s youth through the schools or other programs. Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of the school district, said providing for the children is a complex matter. He said the problems involved include student homelessness, a need for consistency in after-school programs offered, and mental health issues.
“I think we’re definitely taking steps. There’s just a lot more to do,” he said. “And I think as a community we just need to decide whether our youth are a priority.”
Fischer said there needs to be a review of the city based on the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines on juvenile violence to assess where the community stands and what is needed. However, he said the schools have taken several steps in the past year as a way of curbing violence. One specific focus is on bullying, as the schools have implemented a new state anti-bullying law, utilizing counselors in anti-bullying efforts, having principals identify circumstances where students are the victims of bullying, and listening to students for any concerns.
Although the Safe City Commission, a wide-ranging group of residents meeting to discuss safety concerns and make recommendations to the City Council after Chew’s murder, recommended a potential zero tolerance policy in the school, Fischer said this is currently not in place. He said the schools instead make judgments based on what occurred in specific incidents, and try to put an offending student in a situation where they are more likely to be successful.
Fischer said he does not see New London as a violent community, but rather a small city where the impact of violence has a large impact. He also estimated that violent students make up only two percent of the student population, and that the district must balance their need with the majority as well.
“Kids generally care about each other,” he said. “When you go to a football game or a basketball game, the level of courtesy between kids and adults overall is terrific.”
The City Council’s in May also led to $74,000 in one-time municipal funding for anti-violence initiatives, mostly aimed at youth programs. Of this money, $25,000 was split between , , Camp Rotary, and new programming while $24,000 went to New London Adult Education to assist in job training for at-risk students. Another $15,000 was approved for a youth outreach coordinator for New London Youth Affairs. Ellen Kleckner, coordinator of youth grants and services for New London Youth Affairs, said a person began working in this position last week.
Kleckner said the city funds aided in the department’s mini-grant initiatives, where amounts ranging from $300 to $5,000 are directed to programs focused on teens. These included a dance group, leadership camp, anger management group, and programs for internships, entrepreneurialism, and healthy relationships. Kleckner said the coordinator will help to connect teens to local resources and opportunities available to them.
“There are so many resources in New London, but it has great potential to connect the resources and the teens and the families together,” she said of the position.
Kleckner said a teen and youth center was established at the Martin Center in January, ran through June, and is starting up again this fall. She said other successes of New London Youth Affairs have included a summer employment program that put 130 teens to work in local jobs, a federal teen substance abuse prevention grant to be put in place through the New London Community and Campus Coalition, and a juvenile review board to connect youth offenders who meet a set of criteria from the juvenile justice system to local resources.
, a grassroots group that came together after the arrests were made in Chew’s murder, has also shifted toward youth interaction. Members helped in the creation of an at the ; the event was an enormous success, and organizers are now preparing for a second one. John Pescatello, a friend of Chew’s and an organizer of the group, said the name of the organization has changed along with the focus and is now known as New London Active Volunteers.
“We realized that a lot of things that we wanted to do, there were already groups working for those same causes,” he said.
Pescatello said members of New London Active Volunteers have leant their support to organizations such as the Neighborhood Alliance, Citizens On Patrol, and mentoring programs in the schools. He is personally volunteering in a teen outreach program in , and hoping to work toward an accredited program where students from New London’s three colleges can benefit academically for acting as mentors with local students. More recently, the College Advisory Committee reported that will begin assisting in classes in the public schools.
“I haven’t seen a change that I’m satisfied with. That being said, it’s going to take a long time,” said Pescatello. “The seeds have to be planted, and you’re going to have to see them through.”
Public safety also became a major concern following Chew’s murder, and discussions at public meetings included questions of whether there was enough of a police presence to deter violent crime. The municipal budget proposed in April included a , including a lieutenant, 11 police officers, and a part-time crime analyst; of these, when the budget was completed, although it was upgraded to a full-time role.
“I know the city is a better place,” said Deputy Chief Marshall Segar of the New London Police Department. “I think a lot of issues both pro and con came to light following a year ago, and the city has grown in such a way that a lot of positive change has come or will come from a negative event.”
Segar said the number of school resource officers has doubled, with four officers now assigned to schools. He said there have also been continuing efforts by the department to reach out to the community, such as a citizens’ police academy. Graduates of the academy have partnered with New London Youth Affairs and to serve in the New London Ambassadors Program, which has volunteers stationed downtown to welcome people and guide them to events.
“We’ve increased our patrol presence. We’re also made inroads into other types of policing,” Segar said.
Continuing police-community relations efforts, along with the ambassador program, were also among the recommendations of the Safe City Commission. City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and led the Safe City Commission, said he thinks there has been success in this goal.
“We’ve had some community gatherings, well-attended, and we’re just trying to go into different properties, different neighborhoods and see what the issues are and open up lines of communication,” he said.
Other recommendations by the commission have proven more difficult to move forward. One called for the establishment of an . In an interdepartmental memo issued by Segar to Chief Margaret Ackley in December, Segar said the city has had an ordinance on the books since 1994 following increased concerns about youth and gang violence at that point. Segar said the curfew is “procedurally legitimate and enforceable,” but also in need of an update to comply with current juvenile laws as well as a review to address any potential constitutional issues.
“Whereas a rigidly enforced curfew is what many people in the city are vocally advocating for, rigid enforcement could potentially place undue strain on an already fragile community/police relationship,” Segar says in the memo. “Moreover, I am concerned that rigid enforcement of a curfew may result in disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.”
Buscetto says the curfew ordinance is currently being reviewed by the law director before it is brought before the City Council. Legal review is also affecting a number of other Safe City Commission recommendations approved by the City Council. Buscetto said the law director is reviewing any issues with a proposal to establish a to provide a safe place for juveniles picked up by police as well as a proposal to establish more surveillance cameras and lighting in high crime areas.
“I think people are more cognizant of their surroundings,” said Buscetto. “The concern is that over the past two years there’s been a 40 percent increase in violent crime. So we have to be vigilant.”
According to the Facebook page for the Matthew Chew Memorial Scholarship for the Arts, Chew was born in Japan and grew up in Ledyard, graduating from Ledyard High School in 2003. Chew frequently appeared as a disc jockey in local establishments and was hoping to attend college to pursue a career in the arts, but had not found the financial means to do so. The scholarship is managed by the and awarded each year to a person pursuing higher education in the arts.
On Sunday, a in Chew’s memory will set out from at 6:30 p.m. The coffeehouse also has artwork by Chew on display, and at Sunday evening's event it will also host the sale of bracelets, bumper stickers, candles and posters to benefit the scholarship.
“We want to make sure the kindness of people like Matt doesn't die like he did," said Jade Huguenot, a friend of Chew’s, in an e-mail. "We want to make sure it grows exponentially."
Pescatello said Halloween was Chew’s favorite holiday, and the event recognizes that. He said people from Connecticut to California, where Chew’s parents reside, are doing work every day to honor his memory. Pescatello said it has been a difficult year, but that he was inspired to see the number of people who loved Chew.
“In the past year, I’ve met more great people in such a short period of time than I ever thought imaginable,” he said.