Carmen Benavides sat on a curb on Anson Street in Derby Monday afternoon, just as she’s done every day since Jajuan Benavides was shot there Friday morning.
She sat next to tokens of grief on the sidewalk — candles, a framed photo from her youth, a stuffed animal, a shirt.
But she wasn’t there only to mourn the death of her 21-year-old cousin. She hopes her presence will get people talking to police and help catch his killer.
“It honestly just hurts me that even though he was a popular kid, no one wants to come forward and say anything,” Carmen said.
Jajuan Benavides was shot on Anson Street near Fourth Street across from a senior housing complex at about 2 a.m. Friday.
Derby police said he was pronounced dead at Bridgeport Hospital at 7:40 a.m.
“He fought for six hours to try to stay alive, so I know he wanted to live,” Carmen said.
Derby police are working the case with lots of help, Lt. Justin Stanko said. The state police major case squad is helping, and so are detectives from Ansonia and Shelton.
The immediate neighborhood — Anson Street, Sixth Street, Fifth Street, Lafayette Street — is densely populated with multi-family houses, condos and apartment buildings.
Police went door to door after the shooting to gather information.
Some 14 to 16 detectives have talked to about 30 to 40 people since early Friday. They’re also combing through surveillance camera footage from all over the neighborhood and beyond.
Meanwhile, “a ton” of physical evidence was collected along Anson Street, police said.
Just about the entire block was a crime scene, because the violence started on Anson at Sixth Street and ended when Jajuan collapsed near Fourth Street after being shot “multiple times,” police said.
But Stanko, like the victim’s cousin, believes there were people on the street who have more information.
“(The street) wasn’t overly crowded, but there definitely some people out there,” Stanko said. “We know there are people out there who know who did this and why it happened. They know where the shooter is.”
Anyone with information should call police at 203-735-7811 or 203-619-1906.
“We’re not necessarily asking for people to come in and make a sworn statement. You can remain anonymous. We’re looking for information,” he said.
Police listed Jajuan’s address as Naugatuck, where his mom lives, but Jajuan’s Derby-Ansonia roots run deep.
He grew up on Hawkins Street, across from Carmen’s house. He went to Derby schools until the 2011-2012 school year.
Stephen Tracy, the school district’s former superintendent, expressed his condolences to Jajuan’s friends and family Monday.
Tracy remembered Jajuan as a challenging student — but one who could command an audience outside the classroom.
“Most often, we would encounter one another at Fifth and Olivia Streets at the end of the day, just outside of my office,” Tracy said in an email to The Valley Indy. “The thing that always struck me about Jajuan was his ability to hold the attention of a group. He was not the oldest or the tallest boy on the corner. But it was easy to see that everyone was listening to, deferring to him. Confidence. Charisma. Command presence. Call it what you will – Jajuan had it.”
Jajuan’s father died when he was 11. He was one of three children.
Carmen, his 23-year-old cousin, said she was extremely close to Jajuan. They were more like brother and sister than cousins.
One of the old photos on the memorial friends and family made featured five young cousins sitting on a couch at their grandmother’s house in Shelton. They’re so young the five of them fit on the couch with no problem.
“He loved making people laugh,” Carmen said. “He fed off that.”
Jajuan wasn’t perfect.
He got into a lot of trouble at about the age 15 or 16. He had a felony conviction from that time period on his record for a crime in Derby. Details were not available Monday.
Carmen said she stopped talking to Jajuan for awhile. But he had started to grow up the last few years. Things were looking up.
He had a 3-year-old daughter. A second child is on the way. He was scheduled to start a new job with a carpenter Monday.
“It just doesn’t make sense that he was killed. He was changing,” Carmen said.
His family isn’t certain exactly who killed him or why.
His past could have something to do with his killing. There’s a group in Ansonia that had some type of disagreement with him going back about five years.
Some in the family are theorizing the group in Ansonia saw him Friday on Anson Street and decided on the spot to shoot him, taking advantage of the fact the street wasn’t filled with people.
Looks like detectives found a gun under an SUV on Anson Street. Derby and State Police are here investigating an overnight shooting. pic.twitter.com/vy34JC9Snk— Caitlin Nuclo (@CaitlinNuclo) August 11, 2017
Police aren’t ready to divulge the specifics of the investigation, but Stanko acknowledged that the people who shot Jajuan probably had a history with him.
Stanko said Friday’s investigation could have some parallels with the 2012 shooting of Javon Zimmerman on Elizabeth Street.
Zimmerman’s murder was born from a series of slights, perceived or otherwise, by Cordaryl Silva, the man convicted of killing him. The two had known each other for years. The slights, bad blood and feuding had grown more serious over time.
Police are looking at whether a similar, long-simmering dispute underlines Jajuan’s killing.
But no conclusions have been made. It’s too early in the investigation, Stanko said.
Four Gun-Related Crimes In A Week
Police also haven’t determined whether three other gun-related incidents in Derby in the past week are connected.
On Monday Aug. 7, police received a report of shots fired at about 11:15 p.m. on the upper portion of Minerva Street, north of Cottage Street.
“We recovered ammunition and determined that at least three shots were fired,” Stanko said.
No one was injured and no arrests have been made. A bullet fragment hit a house on the block, though the house wasn’t the target, who was either on foot or in a vehicle, according to police.
“The evidence suggests the shooter or shooters were shooting at a known target,” Stanko said.
Then, on Friday, Aug. 11, at about 12:20 a.m., the Checkers convenience store at 160 Elizabeth St. was robbed at gunpoint. No injuries were reported. The suspect ran away with an undisclosed amount of cash. He was described as a black male, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall.
The homicide on Anson Street happened Friday about 80 minutes after Checkers was robbed.
Finally, police were called back to Anson Street Saturday, Aug. 12 at 8:48 p.m. for a report of shots fired.
“Police arrived and found shell casings on the ground, but in this scenario it does not appear that there was a target,” Stanko said. “Basically it was somebody firing their gun into the air.”
A person on Anson Street said the person who fired his gun into the air was mourning the death of Jajuan Benavides the day before. (The same thing happened on Anson Street after a 20-year-old man from Fifth Street died in a car wreck in April.)
“Basically, right now, there’s no evidence to indicate one way or another that any of these incidents are connected, or not connected,” Stanko said. “Obviously detectives are pursuing all angles.”
Can More Be Done?
Violence and reports of shots fired are not new to Anson Street or the streets in the immediate vicinity.
The Valley Indy Monday reached out to the three mayoral candidates and their campaigns to talk about what could be done to help the neighborhood.
Mayor Anita Dugatto said police have extra officers in the neighborhood, including an officer who has been doing foot patrols.
“I live on Elizabeth Street. I walk in the neighborhood all the time. There are good people there,” she said.
But there’s no plans no for a block watch on Anson Street, something Ansonia residents pushed for after a rash of hilltop burglaries two years ago.
Also, after several shootings, Ansonia government this month set up a ward meeting with residents to talk about the problems.
Ansonia residents used a Facebook page to let each other know the meeting was happening. The same page was used to relay what happened during the meeting to people who could not be there.
There are no plans for a forum in Derby, and that’s a shame, said Rich Dziekan, the Republican candidate for mayor.
Dziekan is a retired Hamden police officer.
He said Derby government should be more vocal about the neighborhood’s problems in order to come up with solutions.
“When something happens, you have at least get a forum going. Get the people in a room and start talking to figure out what we can do,” Dziekan said. “We have to try to get to the root of the problem over there. Right now City Hall isn’t really saying anything.”
Dugatto said she is trying to engage several residents who said they want to get more involved in the community.
She said finding a buyer to develop the vacant, 17,000-square-foot “Barron Building” on the corner of Fifth and Anson is important for the neighborhood, too.
Dugatto said she’s been in contact with United Illuminating to replace street lamps which have been dark for months on Sixth Street. It’s a public safety issue.
Carmen DiCenso, the president of the Derby Board of Aldermen who is challenging Dugatto in a Democratic primary Sept. 12, said city government has been receiving more complaints in general about the area.
He cited reports of large groups gathering outside the Veterans Community on Fifth Street as a problem. The issue came up during a special meeting Derby Aldermen convened July 12 to talk about vandalism to city property.
“I believe there should be a stronger police presence in that area during specific, targeted hours of the day, especially on weekends,” DiCenso said. “It would be ideal to have that area patrolled more often, so sitting down with the chief of police for his professional advice will be a priority in making Derby a safer community.”
Dugatto said Derby police are embarking on a plan to engage more with the community. There are some in the Anson Street area who simply do not trust law enforcement — something Stanko acknowledged.
Community Outreach On The Way
Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski said the department is about to put a new “strategic plan” into action — one that could build a better relationship between police and residents in Derby.
It’s a plan that will include lots of “non-enforcement community outreach.” That means getting police more involved in the community in general.
The following programs are being budgeted for next year, the chief said in an email:
- Partnership with DHS and Post University to have police officers teach an “Introduction to Criminal Justice” college level course at the high school.
- Car seat clinics and participation in children’s safety days
- Coffee with a cop events
- Community members with special needs registry development
- Youth/police host nights (pizza/tours/presentations)
- Involvement at group forums (senior center/churches/community groups)
- Development of a business registry and enhanced local business interaction
These type of programs aren’t specifically designed to prevent the type of gun violence seen in Ansonia and Derby recently, but it marks a new direction for police involvement in Derby.
“These programs are going to be invaluable in building trust with youth and the community,” Narowski said.