[Hpn] 6th boy charged in fatal beating

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 23 Jun 2001 16:25:03 -0700


The Bergen Record
Saturday, June 23, 2001

6th boy charged in fatal beating

Staff Writers

Police on Friday charged a sixth Paterson boy with murder in the beating
death of a homeless man by what police say was a swarm of teenagers swept
along by a "mob mentality" during the last days of school.

Detective Capt. William McElrath said the 17-year-old boy, who attends John
F. Kennedy High School, was arrested at his home at 7 a.m. Four of his
classmates and one student from School 13 were previously charged with

Police also continue to look for more suspects in the death of Hector
Robles, a 43-year-old homeless man who frequented the area surrounding the
high school.

"We're still investigating and following up leads," McElrath said.

Meanwhile, city leaders and residents somberly reflected on what kind of
actions they could take to alter the community climate that fosters such
tragedies. Episodes of so-called "wilding" have been a repeat occurrence
over the years, particularly toward the end of the school year.

On Wednesday, a large group of students, mostly from Kennedy, poured onto
the streets at 10:40 a.m., the end of homeroom period in the truncated days
at the end of the school year. A group of about 12 drifted down Totowa
Avenue, attacking at least two people before coming upon Robles, police
said. A juvenile and a delivery driver were treated at St. Joseph's Regional
Medical Center for minor injuries and released.

As they approached Jasper Street,

police said, the teenagers saw Robles sitting on a tire. They beat and
kicked him, according to authorities and witnesses. Police found broken
glass, but have not determined whether Robles was struck with a bottle,
McElrath said.

A preliminary autopsy said Robles died of multiple blunt wounds to the

On Friday, his family implored officials for a swift and harsh punishment
for the alleged attackers.

"I want them to be tried as adults," said Raymond Pagan, Robles'

The teenagers, whose names were not released because of their ages, are
being held in Passaic County's juvenile detention center in Haledon. They
are all between 15 and 17 years old.

News of Robles' death reverberated through the community, as residents
learned that the man they read about in the newspaper was the one who would
quietly push a shopping cart through the street and offer to wash and fix
people's cars.

Many say Robles was an innocent victim of misguided machismo, who apparently
died at the hands of young men with little to do and a lot to prove.

"All they do is come out and try to 'show' themselves to somebody," said
Paul Diaz, 19, standing at Crosby Street and Redwood Avenue in the
neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.

Fighting in the last days of school is not uncommon, according to many
students. As much as graduation is a tradition, so are the fights at Kennedy
High School. Vicious, vengeful fights, students say, involving dozens of

"On the last day of school, everybody has a hit list," said Kristian Cody,

Paterson Superintedent of Schools Edwin Duroy said there are no plans to
expand the size of the school security force. Once the school receives the
names of the suspects, they will be referred to the district's legal
department for disciplinary action.

He called Robles' death "tragic" but said he doesn't know if there was
anything the school could have done to prevent it.

"In hindsight, what could we have done?" Duroy said. "We couldn't have
anticipated something like this."

Some would-be brawlers just walk through the streets, getting caught up in
mob mentality and taking out their anger, frustration, or exuberance on
people at random, the students say.

"They just fight whoever is in the way," said Cynthia Cahill, a 15-year-old
Kennedy student. "They just all come together."

Many of the fights are part of a larger rivalry between Eastside High School
and Kennedy, students say. Sometimes they involve different area "cliques"
-- a word young people use to describe loosely knits groups associated by
geographical city boundaries.

"You got Crosby Street, Market Street Dominicans, J.S.P. [Jasper Street
Posse]," Diaz said.

"There are a lot. Bloods, Latin Kings, JSP, Eastside Thugs, MSD,"
15-year-old Mari Esquerre rattled off.

Often, the fights are over "petty stuff," said Surron Laboo, 18.

"It's like, if I look at you wrong, or if I bump into you -- petty," said
Laboo, a senior at Kennedy.

Authorities are downplaying speculation that the beating was motivated by
racial rivalries or organized gang rites, McElrath said.

"What occurred outside we believe was more a mob kind of mentality that just
took over. It had more to do with what was occurring at the moment as
opposed to being an organized thing where there's a decision made by a
gang," McElrath said. "Anybody can be involved in it that wants to join the

What made this incident different from past wildings -- the term authorities
have used -- was that this time, the violence had escalated to deadly force,
according to McElrath.

In common with neighbors, Robert Carter, a 34-year-old Redwood Avenue
resident, agreed that the fighting likely had nothing to do with racial

"They were just being bullies, probably," he said. "My street is all
Spanish. Me and my wife are the only blacks there. They don't do nothing to

In cases around the country, time and again, petty fights end up in tragedy.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that in 1999 and 2000, 92
homeless people died from being beaten, dragged, set afire, or otherwise
tortured. The group says that figure is an under-representation because
there is no systematic method of documenting violence against homeless

According to the coalition, homeless people are usually mentally or
physically vulnerable, making them easy targets. Most attackers were males
between 18 and 35 years old.

McElrath said that in this case, the violence was random and blind.

"Anybody is the target," he said. "I think that's the whole problem, there
is no reasoning."

Copyright  2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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