JP trauma response team gets first test

October 10, 2008
By

David Taber

Suspect charged in Webb killing

The killing of a 17-year-old at Bromley-Heath last month became the first major test for community members, Jamaica Plain health care professionals, police and city public health workers who recently formed a trauma response team for JP.

Elbert Newsom, 19, of Dorchester—one of the two suspects in the Sept 15. killing of Thomas Webb—was charged with murder in Roxbury District Court Sept. 25. Bail was set at $150,000.

As the Gazette previously reported, Newsom was arrested shortly after the Sept. 15 shooting at the Bromley-Heath housing development.

When the trauma response team kicked into action, they found plenty of work to do.

“When I got to Webb’s house, I didn’t get into the house for 25 minutes,” said team member and Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) Program Director Jackie Furtado. Webb’s “peers were crying and falling out…parents were showing up.”

When she finally got into the house, she said, she found Webb’s siblings each sitting alone in their rooms.

The team’s mission, and the work it did, was to support everyone in the community affected by the killing with everything from direct emotional support that night to setting up transportation to and from the funeral.

Self-review by the group of about 30 people representing the different organizations involved in the trauma response team was generally positive at an Oct. 2 meeting at Bromley-Heath.

“For me it made all of these years of [meetings and trainings] worthwhile,” said Mildred Hailey, executive director of the TMC, one of the main organizers of the response team.

Speaking about a decision to let members of Webb’s family attend an earlier team meeting shortly after the shooting, she said “I think it comforted them to see a group of people sitting around a table concentrating on supporting them.”

Newsom was arrested after he and an unknown accomplice allegedly fled the scene of the Parker Street homicide in a white Nissan Maxima. During the ensuing chase, the two suspects allegedly threw a Smith & Wesson .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun from the car. They then allegedly jumped out of the car as it rolled down Academy Road. The car hit a tree, and Newsom allegedly fled into a wooded area near the Dimock Community Health Center while his alleged accomplice escaped down Columbus Avenue.

Furtado said the quick arrest helped diffuse a potentially even more explosive situation on the night of the killing.

“If we had not had an arrest, I am 75 percent sure we would be sitting over there by Dimock Street because of a retaliation shooting,” she said.

The arrest of a suspect from Dorchester dampened suspicion that the crime was part of a longstanding feud between some residents at Bromley-Heath and nearby the nearby Academy Homes housing development.

As it was, Furtado said, she spent at least part of the evening walking around with a group of teenagers to support them and keep an eye on them.

Courtney Gray, a Boston Public Health Commission staffer involved with trauma response efforts across the city, said the quick arrest was good for people’s grieving processes as well.

“You are not grieving if you are dealing with public safety or system-outrage…Rumor containment is important for people’s healing,” he said.

Hailey described perhaps the starkest example of misplaced “system-outrage” from the night of the killing. Teens who were on the scene when Webb was shot immediately began applying pressure to Webb’s wounds and administering CPR, she said.

When first responders arrived and took over, the teens lingered in the area, watching them work, and, Hailey said, were concerned that the EMTs were not doing their job properly.

“They were trying to tell the officers what to do,” telling them, “not to put pressure on the chest because blood was coming out of his head and neck,” she said. And after they were guided away from the scene, that is what they were focused on, she said.

Hailey recommended that in the future, first responders try to set up screens to shield witnesses from further trauma.

E-13 Community Service Officer Carlos Lara, who attended the meeting, said police are aware of those concerns.

In addition to providing support on the evening that night, the team was relatively successful in another one of its goals, said Jim Cote, executive director of the Martha Elliot Health Center (MEHC), another key organizer of the team.

Jaqueline Rue, a former Bromley-Heath tenant and current MEHC staffer, heard that Webb’s family had to put off planning a christening because of the funeral, Cote said. She invited them to the health center to put together decorations and party favors for the christening, and during that time, let them know about the services the health center had to offer.

“This was a way to get them in there and build that trust,” he said.

The main concerns expressed about the team’s first real trauma response were about communication. Many said they would have responded more quickly if they had been informed of the incident sooner. Cote said he did not find out about the shooting until the morning of Sept. 16, and that morning a 10 a.m. team meeting was postponed, unbeknownst to many, because others left to attend Newsom’s first arraignment on drug and firearms possessions charges.

Hailey noted that the TMC and Bromley-Heath community at large are experienced hands at trauma response. “We have been doing this for 40 years here,” she said.

Others in the group whose work focuses on other parts of JP said they are concerned that, especially without a better-coordinated effort, the communities they work in will not be able to respond as effectively as Bromley-Heath.

Hailey said that funding is also a concern for the team moving forward. The team underwent training over the summer, thanks to a grant from Children’s Hospital Boston, which runs MEHC, but, “We need to talk about how we can get resources,” she said, “This is draining Martha Eliot, Bromley-Heath and the TMC.”