Each night, reclining on her living room couch, Demethra Telford summons the courage to climb upstairs, knock on the door of an empty bedroom and talk to her 14-year-old son’s ashes.
Telford’s boy, Tyrick B. Keyes, was shot in mid-July in Newhallville, at around 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, and he died in the hospital four days later. The police, still pursuing leads, have yet to make an arrest.
Awaiting answers about what happened, Telford is struggling to lay her son’s to rest.
In the last few weeks, she has been erecting shrines for Tyrick throughout her Read Street rental, meeting with public officials about gun violence and begging the killer to come forward. (She said the press and police had incorrectly spelled her son’s first name as “Tyriek.”)
“He was such a good kid. It’s like a piece of my heart is gone. What hurts most is waiting for him to come home,” Telford said. “That baby was the love of my life.”
Sitting on a chair in front of her apartment late Wednesday afternoon, Telford said the stress has worn her down: “My health isn’t well.” She can’t remember names, and she begs her family members to keep it down. Telford has trouble thinking straight. Conversation inevitably leads to memories of Tyrick that she almost compulsively has to share: the times he got something stuck in his ear and had to go the emergency room, the times he lied about cleaning his room but she let him go dancing anyway, the times he’d read for her when her eyesight failed, their conversations together.
“‘Mommy, don’t worry.’ That’s what he always used to tell me,” Telford said. “‘Mommy, don’t you believe in yourself?’”
Telford’s angry, too, but she tries to hold that darker emotion down. At the funeral, for instance, rather than cursing as she wished she could have, Telford instead sang her son a song. She told the congregation she hoped it sounded good up in heaven.
Not wanting to forget him, Telford has filled nooks throughout her house with reminders of Tyrick’s short life. In the small, fenced-in front yard, she pinned Tyrick’s Golden State Warriors boonie hat to a tree. A first-floor shelf is filled up with items: framed pictures, an elegy his niece wrote, a snapback Knicks cap, and a pair of shoes on which Tyrick had written, “I can do all things.”
In her bedroom, Telford keeps a cast (from a broken thumb) that Tryick never saw come off, alongside copies of the memorial service programs and a condolence from the Board of Alders. On another dresser she has a bible from Yale-New Haven Hospital flipped to Psalm 23, which a minister read in Tyrick’s last rites, and a pink box that contains a single lock of his hair.
The mementos are painful to look at. Each glimpse of the snapshots, the framed graduation and death certificates, the not-yet-man-sized sneakers slits her grief open again, Telford said. But the reminders also give her resolve.
“On his memorial shelf and in the ashes in his room, I kiss him goodnight. I talk to him, and it brings me close to him,” Telford said. “It brings me all my strength.”
Hardest of all, Telford said, is making the three-block walk, near-daily, to the location where Tyrick was gunned down. She said she goes because she wants answers. She admits she sounds crazy, but she believes that one day, he’ll visit her and tell her what happened.
“I pray to justice that someone does find him,” Telford said of the murderer. “If [the killer’s parents] have a heart, I expect them to turn their child in. They can still see him behind glass, can still talk, can still send him money. I have nothing. All I got is sorrows and cries and pain and heartbreak.”
Telford asked detectives to not let the case get away from them. “I don’t want them to treat it as a cold case,” she said.
Police said they are still working leads. “It’s still moving along, still moving forward,” Sgt. Alberto Merced, the top cop in the homicide unit, told his supervisors at Thursday morning’s CompStat data-sharing meeting at 1 Union Ave.
Yet, as Telford tries to comprehend her son’s murder, she has questioned the police department’s technology — the acoustic triangulation known as “ShotSpotter” and street cameras — and why neither caught the shooting.
ShotSpotter, which has been in New Haven since 2009, didn’t immediately pick up the bangs of reportedly four or five rounds that witnesses said were fired. Because the system pinpoints a shooter’s location through triangulation, the sound-waves need to hit three sensors to trigger an alert. That didn’t happen in this case, said Lt. Herbie Johnson, who oversees the department’s investigative services.
Detectives did recover audio from at least one sensor, but Johnson said he isn’t sure why the ringing shots didn’t reach the others. He pointed out that ambient noise in the surrounding area, the gun’s caliber strength and the spot from which it’s fired (such as in a car, which could trap the echoes) all might interfere with the system’s efficacy.
“There’s always a margin of error, as with everything,” Johnson said. “But we rarely have any issues” with ShotSpotter.
Police use the technology only to supplement their investigations, added Officer Dave Hartman, the department’s spokesperson. “ShotSpotter is not an exact science,” he said. “We rely on it as an enhancement tool, something that aids us, gives us more data and quicker information.”
Telford can’t help wondering if any extra time might have saved Tyrick’s life.
Because of the ongoing investigation, Johnson said he could not provide the exact time that shots were fired. But officials point out that it’s unlikely much time passed, given that the first 911 call came in at 9:30 p.m., followed almost immediately by five more callers. Cops were dispatched the same minute, and the first patrol car arrived at 9:32 p.m. Other emergency responders followed within minutes: a fire engine and an ambulance showed up at 9:36 p.m., as well as the fire department’s paramedic unit at 9:39 p.m.
Telford also said she wants to know why cameras didn’t record the shooting.
Tyrick was killed on Basset Street, near Newhall Street. At least one camera is visible at that intersection. Three more are visible down the block to the east, at Winchester Avenue, but there doesn’t appear to be any the other direction, at Butler Street.
After the CompStat meeting on Thursday morning, Chief Anthony Campbell told the Independent that cameras in the area were “down” during the time. (Johnson clarified that there are no cameras trained on the specific area where Tyrick was shot.) Campbell said that the cameras are fully functional, but they weren’t storing the footage, due to a shortage of available space on the servers.
“Cameras take up a lot of bandwidth. They’re always recording,” he explained. “But if the system gets overwhelmed, it’s kind of like our human brains: We prioritize what we need to deal with up front. If it’s overwhelmed, certain parts are going to shut down: You’re not going to remember certain things. Cameras are no different. If the bandwidth overwhelms it, certain areas are going to shut down.”
“They’re working on it,” he added.
Several months ago, Campbell tasked Johnson, who’s in charge of the department’s technology, to conduct an internal review of its cameras. The chief has also been in touch with Daryl Jones, the city controller, about incorporating IT systems. For instance, Campbell proposed, if they were hooked up to ShotSpotter’s sensors, video cameras could swivel in the direction of a gunshot to catch a culprit running on foot or speeding away in car.
As a result of those conversations, the department plans to expand its camera coverage. The top brass is currently sitting down with community management teams to decide which corners should be filmed, Johnson said. The exact number of new cameras that will be installed is still being determined, he added.
“We can’t cover everything, but it helps,” Campbell said. “We’ve found that, in cases where we had camera footage, it speeds up the process [of making an arrest]. You know, cameras will never take the place of a witness, a human being coming forward saying, ‘This is what I know happened.’ But [a video] helps build the case.”
Meanwhile, around Lincoln-Bassett School, the parks department is also pruning back its trees, where leafy branches sometimes block the camera’s sight-lines.
“In times of crisis,” Campbell noted, “it does afford the opportunity to bring about positive changes, between cutting these trees back [and] getting more cameras in the area.”
Leaving the ‘Ville
Telford never intended to move into Newhallville, but now she’s torn about leaving.
In late spring, after her son graduated from Fair Haven School, the family decided to vacate its apartment on nearby Bright Street. But with limited options on the market, her Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher’s deadline to find an apartment arrived quickly. Telford decided to move into a two-story unit on Read Street in Newhallville even though the stairs aren’t good for her back problems.
Almost immediately, she hated the place, she said. In early July, she told the housing authority that she couldn’t stand living in a “bad neighborhood” and needed to move. The authority told her that she needed to provide a month’s notice to her landlord, in keeping with the terms of her lease.
A week or two later, Tyrick was shot. The day after her son died, Telford told Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur, the outgoing district commander, and Officer Jillian Knox, the department’s victim services coordinator, that she needed help moving. Mayor Toni Harp later promised to front a security deposit, and a local realtor who often works with Section 8 tenants, Sandy Sauro, agreed to look over available listings.
Telford said she wants to find another three-bedroom place, just like her current one, so that her “son can still have a room.” She has taken pictures of its layout — bare walls, a mattress on the carpeted floor, sneakers lining the periphery — so she can replicate it at the new address.
Yet, even though Telford spent the summer trying to up and leave, she’s now conflicted. Read Street is the place where she has her last images of Tyrick, including where he asked what she was making for dinner on the night he was shot. “It’s tough leaving, because of the memories right here,” she explained, adding, “I think I need to move away. It’s not healing, it’s always a reminder of how he died.” She said she plans to visit the next tenants and ask them if it’s alright if she comes in to take pictures, once in a while.
While she’s desperately holding on to Tyrick’s image, Telford said she hopes the rest of New Haven doesn’t forget him. She wants his picture inside public schools, and next year, she wants a ceasefire on the anniversary of his death.
“I’ll make sure that he gets that,” Telford said. “In his name. I want it all for my son.”