In the Suburbs / 12-year-old's death reminds everyone to prevent violence

Students sign a banner in honor of Clinton Howell prior to a Celebration of Life service held at The Bridge Academy, in Bridgeport, Conn. Dec. 21, 2018. Howell, 12, a 7th grader at the school, was killed by gunfire outside his home Tuesday evening.

Students sign a banner in honor of Clinton Howell prior to a Celebration of Life service held at The Bridge Academy, in Bridgeport, Conn. Dec. 21, 2018. Howell, 12, a 7th grader at the school, was killed by gunfire outside his home Tuesday evening.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

I was eating breakfast at my diner last week when the news flashed across the screen that a young man was killed in a drive-by shooting in the east end of Bridgeport. For a moment I wondered if the young man was a student at our school, The Bridge Academy, but I quickly forgot until I arrived at the school and the principal asked if I’d seen my email from the night before.

I said no and he handed me an explanation that Clinton Howell, one of our middle schoolers, was indeed the victim of a random drive-by shooting the night before. Since I handle the office desk early in the morning, the principal wanted me to know that our school counselors and outside counseling support as well would be in school all day, and there was a likelihood that therapy dogs would be present also.

The brief note explained the few details at the time, including the student’s name and age — just 12 years old, heartbreaking — and the need to be sensitive to all of our students, especially Clinton’s classmates who were obviously grieving. Now, just days before these special holidays our school became a place of mourning for a special young man whose life was snuffed out in a matter of minutes by a senseless shooter in an SUV.

Innocent bystander Clinton Howell had become Bridgeport homicide victim number 11 for 2018.

Over the next 48 hours, headlines screamed that Clinton was not the intended target, but there was a lot of speculation about who was the target and why was Clinton in the line of fire. The police were hinting from a couple of days after the senseless murder that they had identified a “person of interest” and were close to an arrest.

Meanwhile, our school student council had planned an assembly for the Friday before Christmas break, which was originally intended to be a pep rally. However, plans quickly changed after the tragedy and our assembly became a celebration of Clinton Howell’s life instead. Our principal announced that Clinton’s family would attend and there could be dignitaries like Mayor Ganim, possibly senators and Governor-elect Ned Lamont.

Grief counselors would be in abundance that day along with therapy dogs, and the Celebration of Life would be set up so that students who were overcome by emotions could leave the assembly and counselor would be right there for them. This whole tragedy seemed almost surreal for all of my colleagues and me. And even though I did not personally know Clinton, my heart ached for his family, who was struggling to make sense of this nightmare, which came less than a month before the young man’s 13th birthday.

When we arrived at the Celebration of Life assembly last Friday, members of Connecticut Against Violence acted as hosts and emceed the event. A parade of speakers, including our middle school principal, members of the family, several of Clinton’s classmates, Mayor Ganim and city council members energized all of us with tributes and prayers.

And there were so many tears, especially from us on the staff, who felt the void and reacted to comments and tributes about this quiet, special young man. We learned that Clinton loved his juices and snacks from the bodega near his house, lived for his video games and captured the hearts of his classmates and teachers. Clinton was especially remembered by his aunt and uncle who spoke of how he lived for seeing his little nephew whenever he could.

His sister Raejean, who had been one of our high schoolers several years ago, shared how much he cared about family and friends and talked about the sense of loss she was feeling with Clinton taken so soon.

And as individuals spoke, I couldn’t help asking myself why these senseless tragedies keep happening. But more than that, I remain outraged that as a society we are still not doing enough to prevent these crimes from happening.

The following day, my wife and I met the middle school social worker at Costco and she expressed the same kind of concern that little or nothing seems to be getting done. She said that there just aren’t enough after-school programs or safe places for middle schoolers to go after busy days in school and gangs are influencing too many younger students.

When a suspect was arrested earlier this week, I learned that the bullet that took Clinton’s life was meant for his older cousin who had shot at the suspect with a pellet gun. That was hardly consolation for a family faced with buried their beloved child at Christmas. And there are holes in the hearts of so many middle schoolers and teachers whose lives were touched by Clinton Howell.

May this wonderful young man rest in peace as justice is served.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at