Slaying of a Yale student becomes national news
NEW HAVEN — At 8:30 p.m. Feb. 6, New Haven recorded its sixth homicide of the year, when Kevin Jiang was shot to death on Lawrence Street.
Unlike the five homicides preceding it, the crime made national headlines because Jiang was a Yale student. It's a fact that brought a level of attention that the other slayings didn't receive.
Mayor Justin Elicker said while Jiang's killing has brought the most media attention, "it's important for us to underscore the loss of other members of our community and that tragedy, as well, and all of these losses impact the city and in turn the university."
Alfreda Youmans, Jeffery Dotson, Jorge Osorio-Caballero, Marquis Winfrey and Joseph Mattei were all were shot and killed this year in the city. None of their slayings has been solved, according to New Haven police. Angel Rodriguez was found dead Feb. 15 in the area of Farnum Drive and Orange Street; his death was ruled a homicide.
There were 20 people killed in the city in 2020, the most since 2013, but the first homicide didn't occur until Feb. 24, when Dashown Myers, 18, was slain.
John DeStefano Jr., who was mayor of New Haven when two Yale students were killed, said it's important to remember that every life lost to violence is tragic.
Nearly 300 people were killed in New Haven during DeStefano's tenure as mayor between 1994 and 2014, he said.
"It's appalling when you think about it," he said.
Crime on college campuses draws wide attention, though experts say urban college campuses do not have higher crime rates.
"College students, undergrads or graduates, are thought to be living an idyllic existence, safe, free from harm, safe from life's peril," said Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University. "And whenever a student is murdered or a victim of violence, it comes as a surprise because of the mythology of college as a safe space."
Add to that Yale's status as a world-class university. "It grabs attention because of that name ... with a national, global reputation where bad things aren't supposed to happen, but they do," Hanley said.
Jiang's death was made more poignant because he had become engaged to Yale graduate student Zion Perry a week before his death, and he was shot close to her apartment in the Goatville neighborhood, part of the East Rock section and not a high-crime area.
Perry graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in biological engineering. While no one has been charged in Jiang's shooting, another student from MIT, Qinxuan Pan, a graduate student studying artificial intelligence and advanced computing, is at large as a person of interest.
Police have not said anything about a possible motive in Jiang's killing.
Yale sophomore Christian Prince also made national headlines Feb. 17, 1991, when he was shot to death in front of St. Mary Church on Hillhouse Avenue, apparently the victim of a botched robbery. He was the first Yale student killed since Gary Stein in 1974.
Senior Suzanne Jovin was stabbed to death in the East Rock neighborhood Dec. 4, 1998; her slaying has not been solved. Annie Le was strangled Sept. 8, 2009, in a research building near the Yale Medical School. An animal lab technician, Raymond Clark III, was convicted of her murder and is in prison.
The perception of such high profile cases portraying New Haven as dangerous can overcome reality.
"Urban campuses do not have higher rates of crime," said professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston, who has written about crime on college campuses. Further, because they are in urban settings, universities tend to have strong security forces, police departments or, like Yale, both.
In 2019, of 573 colleges and universities that reported their crime statistics to the FBI, there were seven homicides out of 2,900 violent crimes, Fox said. That compares to 1,236 rapes, 425 robberies and 1,233 aggravated assaults, about five violent crimes per school overall.
And students attending college in a city tend to be more aware of potential risks. "In most urban campuses, students recognize that there are risks, whereas when students go to a rural campus they expect it's going to be a crime-free, idyllic area," Fox said.
John DeCarlo, director of the master's program in criminal justice at the University of New Haven and former Branford police chief, said the best universities often are found in cities. Brown, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania also are urban Ivy League schools.
"The intellectually elite that attend schools like this don't have a big choice as to where they're going to go," he said. He said it's important for colleges to let students know the risks but also assure them they are unlikely to become victims of violent crime. "When there is crime or fear of crime ... it's smart to get out in front and openly communicate," he said.
For Elicker, the safety of Yale and the city as a whole are intertwined.
"I worry about New Haven and my focus is on the city, and of course a successful city, a safe city, benefits Yale as well," he said. Elicker earned master's degrees at Yale's School of Management and what is now the School of the Environment, where Jiang was a student.
"By and large, New Haven is a safe city. We also have to be real about our challenges during this past year and today about our increase in violence," Elicker said. "We need to work together to address this.
"Yale is interwoven into all different aspects of city life, so of course the university needs to play a strong role in what to means to be a safe city," he said. "We shouldn't avoid the conversation about how New Haven is struggling ... for enough funding to pay for social services, the new (prison) reentry center we just opened, [for] enough police officers."
DeStefano said while Jiang's killing will weigh on Yale students, faculty and employees, as well as New Haven residents, at the same time, "there's damage done to our own children and our city" whenever anyone is slain.
Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins said he believes the cooperation between the university and city is strong. In an email, he wrote, "Yale loves New Haven: our city is part of who we are. We are proud of our shared community and consider public safety a matter of enduring partnership."
He said Yale's effort to increase public safety, including discussions with Elicker, "has contributed to significant reductions in crime on campus and helped improve the quality of life for the Yale and broader New Haven community."
New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes has stressed the close working relationship between his department and the Yale department as the investigation into the Jiang slaying continues.
Abigail Boyer is associate executive director of the Clery Center, which offers assistance to colleges and universities to comply with the Jeanne Clery Act. Every college and university that receives federal money must report annually the crimes that occur both on and off campus, but it also encourages putting "the policies in place that help support campus safety," she said.
Jeanne Clery, a first-year student at Lehigh University, was raped and murdered in 1986.
"The Clery Act itself really serves as a model" for how to keep the university community informed about safety and how to maintain it, Boyer said. "It's not just limited to reports to public safety or law enforcement, but also to officials with significant responsibility for students and campus activities."
It's important to read not only the reported statistics but also the university's prevention efforts, she said.
If a college is really doing the work of communicating that it is safe to report an incident, its statistics may actually be higher, because students will be willing to come forward, Boyer said. Sexual assault, for example, is often underreported, she said.
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