(Updated 1:42 p.m.) Alicia Roberts was dialing her 13-year-old “baby” son’s cellphone number when another call came through—telling her someone had killed him.
Roberts was dialing her son, Marquell Banks, to tell him that she’d finished cooking a dinner of collard greens, baked macaroni and cheese, and steak. It had gotten late. “I was calling him to come home, get ready for school, and eat,” she said. “That’s when I got the call.”
Roberts’ older son’s “baby mother” was on the line, Roberts recalled. She told her about the report that Marquell had died across town on Porter Street, off North Frontage Road.
The man who police believe killed Marquell turned himself in on Monday. He was being held on a $2 million bond.
When Roberts heard the news of her son’s death Sunday night, she didn’t want to believe it, she said in an interview at her home Monday. She rushed over immediately to see if it was true.
She arrived around 9:20 p.m. to find cops and reporters surrounding a taped-off crime scene at Porter and Parmalee Avenue.
“I just want to know: Is it my son?” she cried out.
Police told her yes, it was. Someone had shot Marquell in the head.
Roberts was beside herself. Police calmed her down, ushered her into a cruiser to take her to Yale-New Haven Hospital’s emergency room to identify the body.
Along the ride, a small part of her held out.
“You still had that little bit of hope it’s not your kid,” she said.
The truth “hit home” when she saw Marquell’s body. “He was lying there [as though] sleeping, with a bandage on his head. That’s a parent’s worst nightmare. You have to ID your child. He was only 13. He was just starting life, not doing nothing. Now I’m about to bury my son.”
“Pain” Hits Home
Roberts recalled that nightmare Monday morning sitting with her sister, Bridgette Roberts, in the kitchen of her third-story walk-up a block from Fair Haven School, where Marquell was in seventh grade. (They asked not to be photographed for this story.) ABC’s “The View” played on a grainy picture on a Tru-Tech television set no one was watching in the spare living room.
Meanwhile, police were looking for an 18-year-old New Haven man they believe killed Marquell. Police said Marquell was with that man and two other older teens in the first-floor apartment on Porter Street Sunday night. The 18-year-old allegedly shot Marquell in the head with a sawed-off shotgun; apologized to his dead body, according to one witness, and then fled out the door.
Acting Police Chief John Velleca announced at a press conference Monday afternoon that the 18-year-old had turned himself in to police at 10:45 a.m. Police had gone to his last known address looking for him around 3 a.m.; he wasn’t there. His mother later accompanied him to headquarters where he was subsequently questioned. (Velleca is pictured at the top of the story surrounded by, from left, Lt. Kenny Howell of patrol, Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Rick Epstein, and Major Crimes Unit chief Lt. Julie Johnson.) Detective Nicole Natale led the investigation with the assistance of Wayne Bullock and David Zaweski
The murder charge indicates that they believe the shooting was no accident.
The shooting is the city’s 28th homicide of 2011. Besides the murder charge, the suspect faces charges of reckless endangerment, unlawful discharge and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
The murder warrant is sealed. As of mid-Monday afternoon, the reason for the homicide remained unclear.
The “why” certainly bedeviled the Roberts sisters in the Fair Haven apartment.
Alicia Roberts said Marquell—the youngest of her four children, known as “Quellay”—had said he was going to a friend’s house earlier Sunday afternoon. She didn’t know which friend; she assumed it was a friend in the neighborhood.
“I’m surprised somebody did this to my son,” she said. “He got along with everybody. He loved rapping, video games, basketball.”
“This kid had Division 1 written all over him” said Frank Redente Jr., Marquell’s coach at Farnam Neighborhood House.
Marquell played in Farnam’s biddy basketball league, according to Redente; his team won the league championship last year when Marquell scored the winning basket. He also played in a summer Amateur Athletic Union league with a team called the New Haven Heat.
Redente took Marquell and the Heat on an AAU trip to Virginia over the summer. In one game, against a team called the Illinois Crush, Marquell “spun around in mid-air and threw up a circus shot” that went through the hoop right before the half-time buzzer. “It was quite an amazing play,” Redente said. “He told his gym teacher the trip was the best thing that ever happened to him.”
“Marquell was one of a kind,” with a great sense of humor, Redente said. “He had us in stitches” during one mammoth traffic jam on the Virginia trip.
“When I hear about other people’s kids getting killed, I cry. I feel the pain,” Alicia Roberts said Monday. Now, she added, she knows what the pain feels like firsthand.
“Hug your kids when they walk out that door,” Marquell’s aunt Bridgette said. “Tell them you love them. You never know when it’s your turn.”
A Ruckus In A Quiet Neighborhood
Police arrived at the scene of the shooting Sunday night to find Marquell inside the first-floor apartment, bleeding from the head from a single gunshot wound. He was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital—and immediately pronounced dead.
He had been hanging out with three older teens in the apartment.
Police are still unsure of the motive for the shooting. The relationship between the shooter and Marquell Banks also remains unclear.
The man was not home when they came to his house in the early hours Monday.
The apartment door was open when police arrived Sunday night. The door remained open as the investigation continued into Monday morning.
The scene is a block away from the Universoul Circus, which is set up on the divider between Legion Avenue and North Frontage, the limited-access stretch of Route 34 that divided the neighborhood in the 1960s (and interrupted streets like Porter).
Neighbors said Porter Street is quiet.
“I’ve been here 18 years” and rarely seen any trouble, said one woman who lives a few doors up the block. She did say that about a month ago she noticed undercover cops spending a few hours at the house where Sunday night’s fatal shooting took place.
Police confirmed that they rarely receive calls from Porter Street.