The governor, law enforcement officials and community leaders spoke at a press conference Thursday calling for more to be done to curb youth crime after a 14-year-old died in a shooting earlier this week. State police have now taken over that investigation and named the teen Thursday afternoon.
That teen, identified as Will Vasquez from Hamden, was dropped off at the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital on Monday, but police said the crime happened outside the city. The Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crimes Unit is taking over the investigation, working with Waterbury Police, New Haven Police, Monroe Police, Darien Police, the New Haven Shooting Task Force, as well as members of the FBI Taskforce and the Connecticut State Police Bureau of Special Investigations.
Vasquez's mother stood with speakers at Thursday's press conference who discussed the need for stronger support systems for teenagers who may be struggling and may have a criminal history.
Police have said this investigation involves a stolen vehicle. Vasquez's mother did not speak at the news conference but did say afterward that her son was on a GPS monitor, and asked the judge not to remove it. That was in September, but it was removed anyway. She said she believes her son would still be alive if he was wearing that bracelet.
Gov. Ned Lamont said that the teen's family said he was doing well until the pandemic hit, and then he began to struggle.
"I just heard the most heart-wrenching story you could imagine from a mom and a grandmother whose kid who was doing well, whose kid was about to go to an amazing high school, play football, was all set and ready to go in 30 days. A good kid, who got in the backseat of a wrong car and I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure that never happens again," Lamont said.
Several people spoke in favor of addressing that need through the criminal justice system but also by creating systems in the community that support teens before they reach a point of crisis.
"One of the things that mom said was 'I wish there was more outlets, I wish there was more to do...I wish the system had been just a bit stricter,'" Lamont said.
"There's 100 to 200 kids in his state, youth that need some taken into custody, that need to be slowed down in life," Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said. He said the system needs better wraparound services and options for teens who may get in trouble to prevent them from falling further into a life of crime or violence.
"They need to know that that we do not want to put them in jail but we want to slow them down," he said.
"There is a serious misperception out here about young, Black men, latino men that are out here, in our streets, who find themselves in our streets, and the picture goes something like this: that they don’t have caring parents, that they don’t have supportive communities. That they themselves are just caught up in this world that is very attractive to them, when in fact it’s the complete opposite. Complete opposite," Andrew Woods, Hartford Communities that Care Executive Director said.
Connecticut has seen a recent uptick in crimes being committed by underage suspects.
Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, released a statement in response to the governor's event.
"The Governor can no longer turn a blind eye to the rise in violent crime and the outcry from communities across our state for both justice reforms and support for our kids. It sounds like Gov. Lamont is finally starting to realize the situation we are in. We encourage him to read our plan for a safer Connecticut and call a special session so that we can immediately work together to implement a real, multipronged approach to stop and prevent crime. We must act to give law enforcement and our courts the tools they need to address high risk repeat offenders. That is the only way to stop crime now. We also need to create opportunity, mentorship, mediation, and address trauma in our communities to prevent crime in the future. Connecticut is dead last in job growth and income growth, opportunity is not available to every child. That is wrong and it needs to change. Justice reforms and opportunity must go hand in hand. You cannot address one without the other.”
The governor said that one step he will take is to allow an interim class of judges to help tackle the backlog in the courts. He said to expect more on that announcement next week.