Javier’s Tree Grows In the Heights

Allan Appel Photo“We always felt that if we put the tree here, passersby will pause, and cherish that this was our friend.”

With that sentiment of love, Nariah Odums and other friends and family of much-loved Common Ground High School student Javier Martinez planted a hearty and long-lived 12-foot red oak in his memory.

The memorial planting took place Saturday afternoon on Hemingway Street near Russell, where Javier’s body was discovered in December of last year. His murder shocked, and then mobilized the Quinnipiac Meadows/Bishop Woods neighborhood.

Click here for a story about Javier’s too-short life and death; here for a story about his memorial service; and here to read about the kinds of programs that are being implemented to stem this recurrent violent tide in New Haven.

Had he not been killed, Javier would have been in the senior class at Common Ground High School this year. For their senior project Javier’s friends Julio Gomez, Capria Marks, Nariah Odums, and Ariana Rodriguez organized the tree planting in his honor and memory.

Javier had worked as an avid tree-planter in internships with Urban Resources Initiative (URI), whose crew brought the shovel, topsoil, mulch, and more for the occasion.

“We went through the species that he [Javier] planted [with URI]. He planted more than 20 species,” said Julio Gomez.

The students ended up choosing the red oak because it is native to the area, hearty, large and can grow into its potentially full 100 years on the south side of Hemingway, where no power lines cross to obstruct its branching.

Photo by Joel TolmanEarlier in the day these same kids and about 60 more (pictured) did plantings in a memorial wetland, to be appointed with a bench and a kind of contemplative grove, at Common Ground.

It will also be formally dedicated in Javier’s memory on May 23.

In a poignant ceremony, Javier’s little brothers Jadon and Jovani and his cousins, aunts, and grandmothers on both sides all wielded shovels pitching in to make a two by three-and-a half foot hole for the oak.

As the digging progressed, Kathy Sanchez, Javier’s aunt, spotted some shiny material that was not stone. The pieces turned out to be oyster shell. She fetched them out and gave some fragments to each of Javier’s grandmothers, Dora Pedraza and Sonia Natal, to shine up and to keep in their gardens.

When it came time to roll the great ball of the tree into the composted hole, URI’s Chris Ozyck announced that the ground needed tamping down.

Into the hole jumped the little relatives, to do the work.

After the tree was rolled in, Javier’s grandmother, Dora Pedraza, closed her eyes, and offered a prayer: “I love you, Javie. May this tree grow big and strong.”

Family members and friends wrote out personal messages on tags with metallic twists and attached them to the branches of the tree. His mother Zaida Martinez’s message was: “I love you with all my heart, Bebo. You will never be forgotten.”

Julio Gomez’s message was: “We miss you, all of us. It’s not the same.”

Javier’s friends said the whole school continues to be profoundly affected by his loss. They in particular. “We sat for two semesters next to each other in chemistry,” said Capria. “There are some moments in class I’ll mix up his name. I’ll call [a classmate] Javie, when his name is Harry. Or I say to Julio, ‘I’m going to tell you something I’d say to Javi,’” she said.

After an hour’s work by many hands, the oak stood straight and tall, with snap dragons, phlox, daisies, and other perennials decorating the base, while the memorial tags glistened from the branches above, backgrounded by the towers of Bella Vista.

The family said the plantings provide them a measure of solace for now.

Some underground water was irrigating the hole already, from the low-lying area. Ozyck also left neighbors with marching orders: Twice a week three or four five-gallon containers of water need to drench the new tree so it acclimates to its new spot.

The memorial tree is not 20 feet from where notices still are attached to to a nearby fence seeking information about the killing, which remains under investigation

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