The knock on the door came at 4:30 a.m. It was a loud knock. It was a knock, Greg Fulcher said, that no parent should ever have to hear.
Fulcher’s wife Celeste heard the knock first. She awoke, rushed downstairs to answer the door.
She opened the door to find not a cop, but two female friends of her 26-year-old daughter Erika.
The friends fell to the ground. They had come straight from a private party in the wee hours of Oct. 26 at a New Haven nightclub called the Key Club Cabaret. A reputed gang member fired at a rival inside the club at 3:30 a.m., according to police; the rival ran into the crowd, and the gunman kept firing into the crowd. The bullets hit four innocent bystanders, four people who had nothing to do with beefing gangs. One of the four was Erika Robinson.
“Erika’s been shot! Erika’s been shot!” the two women cried at the Fulchers’ door in West Haven.
“She’s been shot, not dead,” Celeste Fulcher thought to herself. She, too, cried out loud.
The crying awoke Greg. He came downstairs.
“Is she dead?” he asked the women. “Just tell me if she’s dead.”
The women didn’t know.
“They didn’t know,” Greg recalled later. “But I knew. A parent knows.”
Thus began a harrowing Saturday. The Fulchers will never forget the shock, the pain of losing a beloved daughter to a gunman’s bullet meant for someone else.
But neither will they forget Erika, Celeste and Greg said in an interview in which pained recollections of the fateful events of Oct. 26 mingled with sweet, sad-smile memories of a daughter people called “Hoppy.” They called her Hoppy because she was always “hopping around happy.” Always smiling. Always polite. Always “on the go.” Never in trouble. Always making people feel good. Especially her parents.
“I wish everybody would have a daughter like that,” Greg said.
“We’re just existing now” since the murder, he said. They’ve been looking at baby photos showing Erika’s “big bright eyes.” They’ve spoken about the dream Erika was pursuing, developing a fusion clothing line she began designing two years ago into a full-time business. She called the line “High Off Life.” Jimmy’s Urban Clothing And Footwear in New Haven and in West Haven sold her clothing. Erika, who was single and childless and living in her parents’ home, had planned to move out into her own apartment shortly before her death. Then she asked if she could instead stay longer so she could afford to cut her hours at her day job working maintenance in order to devote more time to developing her product line.
The memories—along with an outpouring of community support—are helping the Fulchers cope as they prepare to bury their middle of three children Saturday at Agape Christian Center on Goffe Street.
An “Angel” Called
Erika’s two friends helped Celeste get dressed. Then they and the Fulchers drove to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The Fulchers didn’t immediately learn that Erika had died. First a priest came to speak with them. A social worker spoke with them. The hospital staff, they recalled, “treated us with the utmost respect.”
So did New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, who arrived at the hospital, too.
“He literally walked me in to view my daughter’s body. He told my husband to hold me up,” Celeste recalled.
In the subsequent days friends showed up at the house and spoke of their love for Erika, who was the middle of the Fulchers’ three children. West Haven Mayor John Picard visited. So did New Haven mayoral candidate Toni Harp, who spent an hour speaking privately with the couple Sunday night.
Relatives from all over the country are planning to fly in for Saturday’s funeral.
“We had no idea she touched so many hearts,” Celeste said.
The other four people struck by the gunman’s bullets at the Key Club last weekend have survived.
The Fulchers said they take some solace in the fact that their daughter didn’t have to suffer long. Her brutal death was at least quick.
They saw a sign in that fact, a sign that she was an angel protected by the Lord.
“She had one bullet, and it took her right out,” Greg said. “God put his arms around her and said, ‘Come on baby.’ The way God cradled and caressed her, it wasn’t violent.
“We had an angel. You can’t keep an angel too long. An angel belongs to God.”
“He needed her more. He had a job for her,” added Celeste. “I think He wanted her to do a new design in heaven.”