They Need Help To Bury “Hoppy”

Paul Bass PhotoThe 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.

Instagram“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.

Celeste, a nurse’s aide at the VA hospital in West Haven, and Greg, a foreman at Chase Materials on Middletown Avenue in New Haven, said they need some more help, financial help, with the funeral. A local attorney, Michael Stratton, has already pledged $2,000; the family needs another $8,000. (Checks can be made out to “Celeste Fulcher” and mailed care of Shafiq R.F. Abdussabur, 365 Whalley Ave., P.O. Box 123, New Haven CT 06511; email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) here for more info. Abdussabur, a New Haven cop and community activist, is the Fulchers’ cousin; he is serving as the family’s spokesman during the ordeal.)

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.”

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posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on October 30, 2013  4:00pm

A sad day for the West Haven and New Haven community to lose such a lovely life.  Condolences to Hoppy’s family, her friends, her circle.  Condolences to this city.  The violence has to stop.  We should all be able to go out with friends and come home to our families in one piece.  God bless the parents.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on October 30, 2013  4:57pm

My prayers are with this family and all those who knew and loved their “Hoppy.” May this city promote peace and understanding. Love the name of her clothing line.

posted by: LadyERT on October 31, 2013  7:30am

Tears filled my eyes as I read this. As the parent of TWO teenage daughters, I cannot begin to imagine the hurt they are experiencing. My heart and prayers go out to the family and friends of this beautiful young lady and I am also praying that people will see the damage done by senseless gunfire.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on October 31, 2013  10:38am

To Mr. Alder. Elect/Stratton, 
The gesture to donate a gift to the Fulcher family certainly didn’t go unnoticed by me.  I don’t know you personally and have never met you either.   My shots at you in the past were regarding your politics not your character.   I hope you certainly understood that.   Politics aside, though the family will in their own way express their gratitude for your love offering, I want to commend you  myself.   This gesture was pretty magnanimous of you.    You’re apparently a tremendous fella with a good heart.  Now if you can only get eight more of your friends to do the same thing, the family can put Erica away nicely.  God bless you and your family and I look forward to meeting you someday. 

I found out about the passing of my friends’ loss on Saturday night.   Greg and I cried Sunday upon locking eyes on one another.  Erica was everything and above the parents description. 

I can’t imagine the pain that both Greg and Celeste are enduring at this juncture.  The loss of any child is indeed by itself painful enough, but to experience losing your child in this way, has to be numbing. 

Erica was a very vivacious young lady who couldn’t stop smiling and stop serving others.  She was always around her dad in the kitchen and helping him setup for the many community cookouts Greg and Celeste would often have in their back yard.  

Greg and Celeste would never allow a stranger to ever go hungry.  Though their financial means (like most people) were at times insufficient, you would never know that based on the hospitality they’ve always shown others.  

Greg said to me Sunday, “Brian, although Erica’s death occurred in the “Hood,”  she wasn’t from the “Hood.” That was a very profound statement he murmured.  Since we’ve both graduated from the projects and now own homes that our children were raised in, that’s the definition of such an in depth statement.  

This unfortunate scourge of violence that has overwhelmed the City of New Haven is inescap

posted by: Philavor on October 31, 2013  12:28pm

My heart & prayers go out to the Fulcher family. I personally did not know “Hoppy” but I know her parents well & have always been “Good People”. I’m sure if I did know Erica I would feel just the same as everyone else during this time. However it still pains me that such a tragedy has happened to another one of the young & gifted. Not to take anything away from anyone else who has lost someone this in the city this year to violence, I must say when is enough going to be enough? Whomever did this I hope that justice is served. Again my condolences to the family & friends who lost a true loved one.

Peace & Blessings
Phil from West Haven

posted by: nh4life on October 31, 2013  2:00pm

I can’t remember the last time I cried this much. It brought back a tragic day in my life about 13 years ago. Since then I don’t take anything or anyone for granted-ever. My prayers go out to the family.