With purple, pink, and white balloons, and a first birthday cake that she herself never saw, relatives and friends Saturday celebrated what might have been the 21st birthday of Danielle Monique Taft.
She was the infant child whose shocking death to drug and gun violence in 1994 helped inaugurate the policy of community policing that continues to change New Haven for the better.
About 40 people bearing balloons, sweets, yellow and red roses, but, most of all, still heart-breaking and vivid memories filled the parking lot of the building where Monique was shot to death, adjacent to the Beulah Heights Pentecostal Church on Orchard Street.
Click here for an interview with Danielle’s mom, Shirley Troutman, and background on the horrific infant shooting, a consequence of out-of-control drug violence, that unfolded at Orchard and Munson streets 20 years ago.
Several weeks ago, in the run-up to July 5th, which was Danielle’s birthday, Troutman and Danielle’s cousin, Angel Ogman (pictured), who was 10 at the time of the murder, ran into each other at the Stop & Shop market, got to talking about Danielle. They decided to organize a memorial that took the form of a birthday party.
Most of the people who gathered for Saturday’s celebration were in the family circle of Troutman or that of the father of the baby, Danny Taft. Mike Balcombe had not heard of the murder until he read about it and the commemorative event in the press. He decided to attend with his son and assistant trainer Jalyn and their five white doves. Before family remarks and those of Troutman and the release of the balloons, Balcombe released the birds into the bright blue sky.
“The doves symbolize freedom, love, and purity,” he said.
As Danny Taft made his remarks about his child, who never had a chance to grow up , he showed a reporter a small necklace that he wore beneath his purple shirt.
“I took these barrettes out of her hair the day she died,” he said.
Taft said he wore them every day for three or four years after Danielle’s death. Then he was afraid he might lose them; now he keeps them at home except for special occasions, like Saturday.
“Twenty years later we’re still suffering,” he said.
“She was a little angel. She kept a smile on her face even when she slept, and never cried.”
Among the more attendees were former Mayor John DeStefano, who was five weeks into his first term when the murder occurred, and then-Police Chief Nick Pastore (pictured).
Troutman thanked both profusely for helping her family get through the trauma and making prosecution of the case a priority.
“Thank you for bringing us together once again,” said DeStefano. “Nothing makes up for Danielle, but it made something very real for me: how we should be intolerant of violence. On this sunny day that baby is smiling down on us.”
“We lost the angel of mercy that day, but not in vain. It brought the community together,” Pastore added.
The doves and birds were released, the many kids in the audience ate from the birthday cake or cupcakes that were passed around, and people gathered in small groups to remember what might have been.
“Every 20 years I’ll be back here, we’ll all be here, to celebrate my baby,” Troutman said.