Shooting claims life of 17-year-old New London High School student
New London — Police are investigating the shooting death of a 17-year-old New London High School student Wednesday night in the area of Grand and Elm streets.
Police said that at approximately 6:22 p.m., emergency personnel responded to a report of shots fired with an injured person in the road. When they arrived, they found a 17-year-old boy who was declared dead by paramedics.
Police said the incident does not appear to be a random act. After the shooting, police put out a bulletin to area police departments that they were looking for a 2016 Audi registered to an East Lyme address that may have been involved in the shooting.
While police have not yet identified the victim, his family has identified him as Ronde Ford, a former New London High School football player and aspiring rapper with a great smile who was with a group celebrating the birthday of one of his friends on Wednesday.
Ronde is the son of James and Jamie Ford, who were at their home on Prest Street on Wednesday night when they said they heard the police and ambulance sirens in the area.
“Where’s Rondo?” was the question that immediately came to mind, said James Ford.
Minutes after they heard the sirens, a young kid from the neighborhood arrived at the Ford home to announce, “Rondo got shot.” Within the hour, James said, he and his wife joined police to identify their dead son, who was still lying where he had been shot.
“It sucks,” James Ford said. “We’ve got to figure out what happened and try to get past this.”
Mayor Michael Passero, Police Chief Peter Reichard and Capt. Brian Wright of the New London Police Department held a news conference Thursday afternoon to address the incident. Wright said that the investigation was active and that no one was in custody. He said the boy was struck multiple times but declined to say where on his body he was shot, "out of respect for the family."
Wright did not say whether a weapon was recovered at the scene but said that investigators "were able to collect and seize some very viable information and evidence which will assist us in this investigation." At least one weapon and vehicle were involved, he said, and another person who was involved may have been injured.
Police were still investigating what led up to the shooting, but Wright said they were confident it was not a random act. Investigators had not ruled out any potential suspects, motives or gang involvement.
"We are not ruling out any possibilities, it's too early in the investigation to pigeonhole the course of our investigation," Wright said.
Investigators were closely monitoring social media, Wright said, and did not think any social media posts were a factor in the shooting.
'RIP young boy'
James Ford, a father of seven kids and former youth league football coach, said his family gathered with friends on Wednesday evening to mourn together. He said it’s a tight-knit community and “everybody just clicked into survival mode” to help one another once word got out about the shooting.
“We’ve got to get together and make whatever happened here the last mistake. It’s all about taking care of each other in New London,” he said.
James Ford described his son as talented, athletic, smart and strong-willed. The strong-willed part is something that got him into trouble on occasion, he said. His son was not physically attending school but did participate in remote learning activities. He said his son was also a rapper who had taken an online persona, which he said is sometimes taken the wrong way by others.
He said he does not know why the shooting occurred.
Early Thursday, crime scene tape had been removed from the neighborhood where the shooting took place, and police were no longer on the street.
A patch of salt covered the ground outside 22 Grand St. with splattered blood visible beneath it. Across the street, a single purple candle flickered in the wind with the words “RIP young boy” written on it. It was placed there by two teenage boys who visited the scene of the shooting Thursday morning.
One of the boys, a 16-year-old from New London, said Ronde Ford was his cousin.
Another man, who did not wish to be named, visited the crime scene Thursday morning and said Ford was his younger brother’s best friend. He said he was shocked to hear about the shooting death, years after the murder of his best friend, because he didn’t think things like that happened in the area anymore.
Evelyn Martinez, who lives on Grand Street not far from where the teen was shot, said she was home with her teenage daughter and husband when they heard five shots ring out.
“We dropped to the floor and hurried into the other room,” she said.
After the shots, she said she heard people yelling for help.
Martinez said her husband went outside and saw that their next-door neighbor had rushed outside to help. The neighbor told her husband that he saw someone run by and toss something into the Martinez’s truck, a green Ford pick-up truck that was parked on the street.
Martinez said that her husband saw an unfamiliar red bandana in the bed of the truck and worked with police as they recovered the items.
When she learned who had been shot, Martinez said she recognized the boy from the neighborhood and that she often saw him socializing on the street with a group of four to five teenage boys, including one night this week when they were standing near the site of the shooting.
“It’s very sad, especially if you know they’re kids that are always around on the street,” she said.
'We have to do better'
Passero said more information about the incident would be made available when the investigation was concluded.
"In this community an incident like this does not go without a thorough review," said Passero. "We will completely deconstruct everything that led up to this terrible tragedy."
Passero commended the city's schools and parks and recreation department and said the city and the police will be working together with the human services department and youth in New London.
"We will be focusing on what happened here and working with our young people to make sure that everything is done to try to avoid anything like this from happening in the future in our city," he said.
The last homicide in New London took place on Home Street in November. One man was killed and two others were wounded in a triple shooting.
"First and foremost, I think it's important to understand that we as a society, we have to do better. Any time there's a loss of life it's a tragedy, and even more so when it's a young person who has yet to begin or live their life," Capt. Wright said during the news conference.
"I would respectfully ask that family, friends and community members let the assigned investigators complete the investigation and take this moment to cherish those close to them and as a reminder that life is precious and we should always view it as such," he said.
New London School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie released a statement to the school community Thursday morning.
“It is with the deepest regret and sadness that I inform you about the tragic and sudden loss of one of our high school students. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and to the entire school community of which this student was a beloved part. This news is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions, especially for our staff and students,” Ritchie said.
The school district has crisis intervention teams made up of professionals trained to help with the needs of students, families, and school personnel at difficult times such as this, Ritchie said. Counselors are available at all schools for any students or staff members who may need support surrounding this loss.
The district has provided a link on its website to a list of contacts for support at each of its schools.
“If you feel that your child is having difficulty, we encourage you to discuss their thoughts and feelings with them,” Ritchie said. “This will help them to work through their grief or concerns. In addition, we realize that many parents may be personally impacted by this news. If any adult needs assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to the contact list of support staff for your school.”
City Councilor Curtis Goodwin, who has worked for years in the community to prevent youth violence, posted a message on Facebook about his sadness over the shooting.
“Please find it in your heart to get involved,” Goodwin said. “Our community will only thrive with you adding value and mentorship to it. My heart is with the family and all of you.”
Goodwin helped create the New London Youth Talent Show as an outlet for youth following the slaying of 25-year-old Matthew Chew in 2010. Goodwin’s adopted brother, Travon Brown, was stabbed to death in New London in 2017 in the same area where Wednesday’s shooting occurred.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of venues for youth activities, Goodwin said he said he was concerned about a disconnection between the community and the youth.
Goodwin said he continues to work to be part of the solution with mentorship programs and providing youth with resources to succeed. The council recently voted to fund the construction of a community recreation center. He said, “There has to be accountability and responsibility among the community to change the trajectory.”
A family friend has set up a GoFundMe account to help defray funeral expenses for the Ford family.
Anyone with information about the incident, or video of the shooting, is asked to contact the New London police's detective bureau at (860) 447-1481 or text NLPDTip and the tip information to Tip411 to submit an anonymous tip.