Teen, man arrested in NJ schoolyard killings of 3 college students

By Jefrey Gold

NEWARK, N.J. – A 28-year-old man and a teenage boy were charged Thursday in the execution-style schoolyard killings of three college students and the wounding of another, a crime that has outraged this violence-marred city.

The arrests came within hours of each other, with police taking the 15-year-old boy into custody Wednesday night and the man, Jose Carranza, surrendering to the mayor on Thursday.

“We believe that others were involved in this heinous crime,” Essex County Prosecutor Paula T. Dow said. “We’re looking for them.”

Community activists, meanwhile, urged racial calm after the arrest of a Hispanic man – Carranza – in the slayings of the three young black students.

“The kind of violence that happens in Newark is random. There has never been any animosity between blacks and Latinos,” said Ras Baraka, principal of Central High School in Newark and the son of New Jersey’s former poet laureate, Amiri Baraka.

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“We’re all in the same conditions in this town,” he said.

The killings ratcheted up anger in New Jersey’s largest city, where overall crime has declined but where the number of killings continued at last year’s pace with 60 homicides so far this year. The killings have prompted billboards in the downtown area that scream, “HELP WANTED: Stop the Killings in Newark Now!”

During a news conference Thursday announcing the arrest of the teenager and the search for Carranza, Mayor Cory A. Booker learned that Carranza wanted to surrender.

When reached by Carranza’s lawyer, “I said simply, let’s find a spot,” Booker said at a second news conference. The surrender took place at a police office next to City Hall. When he surrendered, “He said no words whatsoever,” Booker said.

In turn, “I had absolutely nothing to say to this individual.”

Hours later, Carranza, handcuffed behind his back and wearing a black “Hulkamania” T-shirt and light-colored shorts, was escorted into police headquarters via a back door. He did not respond to questions as he was taken inside.

Officials declined Thursday to speculate on a motive, but Police Director Garry McCarthy said: “There is still no indication of a gang angle in this particular endeavor.” Authorities have said robbery appeared to be the motive, and robbery charges were brought against the two suspects.

Authorities do not believe the four victims knew the assailants. Carranza and the teen are unrelated, Dow said, but she didn’t elaborate on how they knew each other.

Carranza had at least three prior arrests and was facing an aggravated assault charge in a separate case at the time of the killings, Booker said.

According to court records obtained by The Star-Ledger of Newark, Carranza was indicted twice this year – in April on aggravated assault and weapons charges; and in July on 31 counts including aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 13. He was free on bail on the indictments.

The four victims, friends ages 18 to 20 who were planning to attend Delaware State University this fall, were shot while visiting in a schoolyard not far from their homes Saturday night.

Terrance Aeriel, 18, Dashon Harvey, 20, and Iofemi Hightower, 20, were forced to kneel against a wall and were shot at close range. The fourth victim, 19-year-old Natasha Aeriel, Terrance Aeriel’s sister, survived a wound to her head and is hospitalized. Natasha Aeriel was able to help authorities identify the suspects, the mayor said.

Officials said fingerprints on a bottle found at the shooting scene and ballistics evidence tied Carranza to the crime. Carranza and the teen were charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and other charges.

Dow said they would seek an adult trial for the teen, whose name was not released because of his age. The teen was being held pending a detenion hearing.

Carranza was being held in lieu of $1 million bail. A message left for Carranza’s lawyer, Felix Lopez Montalvo, was not immediately returned.

“I want justice. The right justice for my child, for T.J., for Natasha and for Deshon,” said Hightower’s mother, Shalga Hightower, from her Irvington home Thursday. “They took three angels away from their families, but one angel survived, so the story could get told.”