Published October 29. 2011 4:00AM
Marilyn and Rick Chew are spending the one-year anniversary of their son Matthew's murder in a quiet coastal town in central California, but their thoughts this weekend are with their surviving children in Connecticut - and with New London, the community most shaken by Chew's violent death.
The Chews said in a recent phone interview from their home in California that they have suffered deeply this year, experiencing shock, anger, sadness and consuming thoughts of their son's violent death. Even joyful family gatherings have been tempered by grief because their family unit is broken, they said.
"We get out of bed and function every day, but he's with us all of the day as we do the things we have to do to carry on with life," Marilyn Chew said.
Matthew C. Chew, 25, an artist, DJ and cook who grew up in Ledyard and moved to New London as a young adult, was assaulted and fatally stabbed Oct. 29, 2010, as he walked home from his job at 2Wives restaurant on Huntington Street.
Six local teens, who allegedly set out to beat up someone at random that night, were arrested a month later.
The crime, devastating to Chew's family and friends, also resonated with various segments of the city's population, from the arts community, where Chew was making a name for himself, to the business sector, which feared the tragedy would cast a pall on revitalization efforts, to city officials and police, churches, and the schools the alleged perpetrators attended.
The families of the imprisoned teenagers grieved their own losses and, with the news that other random attacks had occurred in New London, many who knew neither the victim nor his accused attackers feared for their safety.
This weekend's memorial events include a Halloween-themed candlelight vigil Sunday at the Bean & Leaf cafe. Some of Chew's bold-colored paintings are on exhibit at the coffeehouse, and Chew's parents recently installed a memorial bench on the patio there. Costumes are encouraged. Chew loved Halloween, according to his friends, and had planned a party before his death.
Washington Street, home of Chew's favorite coffeehouse, also is where he lived, and where, moments before he was attacked on nearby Huntington Street, a bank surveillance camera recorded the images of the six roving teens who would be accused in his death. They are Tyree Bundy, Idris Elahi, Matias Perry, Rahshad Perry, Brian Rabell and Marquis Singleton.
At a court hearing earlier this year, three of the teens testified that they were watching TV at Elahi's house when they decided to go out and jump someone. Rahshad Perry dared Elahi to stab somebody, according to the court testimony, and the two gave each other "dap," or knocked fists, to seal their commitment.
The teens remain incarcerated and have been making regular pretrial court appearances in New London Superior Court during which prosecutor Stephen M. Carney discusses the case with the teens' attorneys and with Judge Patrick J. Clifford.
The state expects to resolve Elahi's case first, since he allegedly was the lead aggressor. The case has bogged down while Elahi undergoes a psychological evaluation that was requested by his attorney.
The evaluation, fairly routine in murder cases, is geared toward uncovering mitigating factors, or information about Elahi's life that could be presented to the court with the hope of securing reduced charges or a lesser sentence.
Marilyn Chew said she has not given a lot of thought to the six teens during the past year because it takes away from her thoughts of Matthew. She and her husband have been in touch with the state's attorney's office and said they would be here should any of the teens go on trial.
"I always trip up on the same thing I tripped up on early on," said Rick Chew. "Why did these six people do this? The answer is, I don't know and I can't tell you, either because I can't put myself in their shoes or because there was no actual reason."
The Chews, who have said they hope for enduring, positive change in New London as a result of their son's death, have been participating in survivors' groups in California.
They also have been involved, with Matthew's friends, in the creation of The Matthew Chew Memorial Scholarship for the Arts. At Sunday's memorial vigil, posters from Chew's paintings, as well as wristbands and stickers, will be on sale.
The scholarship fund, administered by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut, shows a balance of more than $4,000, according to Amanda Bachand, who said her friend would be happy that his death jump-started efforts to improve the city. There have been several fundraisers for the scholarship during the past year, and there is talk of a music festival.
"I feel like this kind of started a revolution in New London," Bachand said.
In the wake of Chew's death, city officials formed the Safe Cities Commission and obtained $74,000 for youth programs. Private citizens started organizations like the nonprofit New London Antiviolence, which organized neighborhood walks and recruited volunteers to work with young people. Churches got involved and businesses contributed to various fundraisers.
"When something like this happens, it has a rippling effect, not just in New London, but in surrounding towns," said John Pescatello, who leads the antiviolence group. "As a parent, you think, 'That's terrible, and it could happen to my child on either side (victim or attacker).'"
Rev. Carolyn Patierno of the All Souls Unitarian Church, who spoke of the importance of maintaining peace at an impromptu vigil that was organized by Chew's friends on the night of his death, said it felt this year as if the heartbreak of the tragedy never stopped. But there are glimmers of hope, she said.
"I think the community weathered the tragedy as best it could, and there's still a lot of work to do," Patierno said. "I'm hopeful this will never happen again, that there will be a place for young people to gather and for recreation and for community building."