By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ After a vicious assault on a Trinity College sophomore a few months ago, suspicions turned toward neighborhoods near its Hartford campus. Hundreds of students rallied for tighter security. Police stepped up patrols. And the chairman of the college’s board of trustees pledged to address safety concerns.
The investigation into the March 4 attack has not produced any arrests, but police are now investigating the possibility that fellow Trinity students beat the victim.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and other city leaders say residents of the poor, ethnically diverse neighborhoods ringing the campus are right to feel that blame was unfairly cast upon them. The liberal arts college is taking steps to patch up its relationship with the community, but the episode remains a sore spot particularly for some Hispanic leaders.
“People should not make presuppositions before they have facts available to them to be able to draw a conclusion,” the Puerto Rico-born Segarra said in an interview. “All people, whether it’s the campus administration or whether it’s the city, whether it’s the community, people need to be more astute, not quick to pass judgment.”
The student, Chris Kenny, was attacked on the edge of campus in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 4. He was hospitalized with a broken jaw and cheekbone.
College officials initially said the assailants were not Trinity students, leaving the impression that they were neighborhood criminals. Kenny and a fellow student who was with him reportedly had told campus security that the attackers were “Spanish.”
Police announced three days after the attack that witnesses reported it was carried out by five white people –two men and three women, all in their 20s. Trinity students are widely rumored to have been involved, but Hartford police say the scope of the investigation remains open as they seek more witnesses.
“We’re following up on all options and all avenues, whether they be on campus or off,” said Nancy Mulroy, a police spokeswoman.
Despite the conflicting accounts over the attack, hundreds of students turned out for a rally on March 8 that many saw as pointing fingers at the outside neighborhood. In addition to expressing support for Kenny, the students demanded improvements to security.
“To a number of us, this looked like one more attempt to blame the neighborhood for our own problems,” Trinity mathematics professor David Cruz-Uribe said.
The college had been taking steps to improve security before the attack, including the hiring of additional security officers. Hartford, a city of 125,000 people, had 27 homicides last year and is struggling to reduce violent crime. College officials say some community residents expressed gratitude for safety measures such as improved lighting along the campus boundary.
As some neighborhood activists demanded an apology from Trinity, college officials met with community leaders.
Trinity has long-established partnerships with Hartford on many levels, including a free summer camps for city children, but college officials said they sensed a need to improve communication.
One proposal that came out of the meetings is to arrange discounts for Trinity students at nearby Hispanic-owned restaurants and other businesses.
“That’s a great start,” said Luis Cotto, a Hartford city councilor. “The main thing is for everyone to see each other.”
As for the assault case, the mayor declined to comment on the status of the investigation, but he said it highlighted a need for better coordination between Trinity and the city police department. He said police stepped up their presence around campus afterward in response to a request from the college.
“Inaccurate leads lead you in different directions,” Segarra said.
A spokeswoman for the college, Michele Jacklin, acknowledged that the school released “conflicting” information immediately after the assault but declined to comment on the police investigation. She said Trinity is eager to see the case resolved.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)