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Gun violence in Trenton is cause of death of five Mercer students since last year

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Cornelius Boakai, who was studying Communications at Mercer, was the fifth of five students lost to gun violence during the 2012-2013 school year. Photo from Boakai's Facebook profile.
Cornelius Boakai, who was studying Communications at Mercer, was the fifth of five students lost to gun violence during the 2012-2013 school year. Photo from Boakai’s Facebook profile.

Five Mercer students have been murdered since September of 2012. All five lost their lives due to gun violence in Trenton.

The dead include:

Ruschell Fireall, 42, a former student, who was a Criminal Justice major through 2008, was shot multiple times outside of her car following a high speed chase by her attacker on November 12. The alleged shooter is William Marshall against whom Ruschell had a restraining order.

Tre Lane was 19 years old when he was shot in the chest during a drive-by shooting, on September 22, 2012. He was studying Computer Science at Mercer. Three other people were wounded in the shooting, and Lane had been using his body to shield two friends from the gunfire when he was fatally wounded.

Benjamin DaVila Jr. was the victim of a drive by shooting while sitting on the porch of his grandparents house on Calhoun Street on October 10, 2012. DaVila was 23 years old and was studying Graphic Design at Mercer.

James Austin, who had 5 month old twin daughters, was shot in the chest in a private residence on East State Street on February 26, 2013. Austin was studying Business Administration and was the son of a retired Trenton police Sgt.

The most recent victim was Communications: New Media major Cornelius Boakai, 21, who was murdered on April 11. According to official reports, Boakai was struggling with an unknown assailant when he was shot in the back at 7:35 PM. He was taken to the Capital Health Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 8:00 PM.

When asked for additional details regarding the death, Trenton Police Department Detective Lieutenant Stephen Varne declined to comment, noting the ongoing nature of the criminal investigation.

Two memorial services were held in remembrance of the slain students, one on April 30 on the JKC campus, the other on May 8 at the West Windsor Campus.

Speakers included: Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell; James Kerney Campus Provost Monica Weaver; Communications Professor Alvyn Haywood, and Boakai’s father, Morris among others.

Third semester communications major Tanequa Clark, who lost her aunt to gun violence, spoke at the West Windsor memorial. “When it hits close to home, you can’t run from pain, you can’t run from violence, you can’t run from life itself,” she said.

Professor Haywood told The VOICE that the memorial was “For people to be able to express themselves, to grieve, and to share in their affections for those who are left.”

Dean Campbell explained, “They were victims of street violence. That was the commonality.” Dean Campbell said that the victims “were students who were on their way to try to have better lives and that’s what their families were expecting for them.”

Janisa Alicea, first year Communications: New Media major and classmate of Cornelius, said of her peer, “I was really shocked more than anything, and after the shock I cried for a few days.” She added, “I didn’t go to class for one day because I couldn’t. I just couldn’t go into class knowing that he wouldn’t be there when I got in there.”

Boakai’s mother, Selina, said that his dream had been to become a sports analyst. He had recently joined the Gattaca football program and was playing cornerback.

First semester Liberal Arts major, Cameron Harper, a friend and teammate of Cornelius said, “He was a very nice guy, always liked to have fun, to talk to everybody. He was never shy. He always had a smile on his face.”

Professor Steven Voorhees who had Boakai in his TV production class said, “When I learned that he had been killed, my heart just sank. It’s a feeling that you don’t feel often in your life, its hard to describe that.”

Voorhees continued, “It really puts everyone on the same level, it is not teacher and students, it is a room of people who cared about another person who lost their life.”

When reached for comment, other members of the Boakai family declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing police investigation.

The Trenton Police Department conducted a gun buyback program during the last week of January in 2013 and recovered 2,603 firearms. That statistic includes more than 1,000 handguns and over 100 sawed off shotguns.

However, as noted in previous VOICE article published on February 18, 2013 gun buybacks have not proven successful by any research measurement; analysts have suggested this is the case in part because the kinds of guns relinquished are not the ones used in street violence and in part because the type of people who give up their arms are not the ones most likely to commit crime.

One effort at street crime reduction in Trenton that did produce results, however, was called Operation Ceasefire in 2008. Despite the measurable drop in gun crime, budget cuts caused the program to be discontinued in 2010.

In 2012, the Trenton Police Force was cut by 30 percent, and statistics show that crime rose 12 percent during the first 7 months of that period.


Benjamin DaVila - 10/10/2012
Benjamin DaVila – 10/10/2012
James Austin - 02/26/2013
James Austin – 02/26/2013
Ruschell Fireall - 11/12/2012
Ruschell Fireall – 11/12/2012
Tre Lane - 09/22/2012
Tre Lane – 09/22/2012

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