ELIZABETH, N.J. (AP) – Hours after a boisterous Christmas dinner at her grandfather’s, 13-year-old Zainee Hailey came home and took out her family’s trash, a chore she rotated with her siblings. She bundled up the trash bag and stepped outside her Newark home into the path of a stray bullet authorities said was meant for someone else.
Mourners remembered the honors student at a funeral service Tuesday, as the Essex County prosecutor’s office announced that a 15-year-old had been arrested and charged with Zainee’s murder and the killing of a 15-year-old boy in her neighborhood. The juvenile from Newark, whose name is being withheld because of his age, is also charged with the attempted murder of a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the neck and seriously injured.
Hailey’s grandfather, Michael Peterson, said he was shocked to learn the age of the boy charged with her murder.
“It’s just a tragedy that each person who committed the crime or was a victim was 15 years or younger,” he said. “Wow.”
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray announced other arrests and warrants Tuesday related to what authorities dubbed “a homicide holiday spree” in and around Newark in recent weeks. It caps off a year in which homicides spiked 25 percent in Essex County, according to Murray, and there were more than 100 murders in the county seat of Newark, 12 miles west of Manhattan. That’s the most murders Newark has seen since 2006.
The current spasm of violence began Dec. 15 with the fatal carjacking of 30-year-old Dustin Friedland, a Hoboken lawyer who was shot in the parking garage of the upscale Short Hills Mall after Christmas shopping with his wife. Four people have been arrested in that case.
On Dec. 21, an 18-year-old college student was shot and killed at a party in Newark. Authorities announced two arrests in that case Tuesday.
In addition to the Christmas Day killing of Hailey and 15 year-old Kasson Mormon, of Newark, authorities said three men were shot and killed on Christmas, and two injured, at a go-go bar in Irvington, which borders Newark. A warrant has been issued for a 19-year-old Newark man in that case.
On Dec. 27, a 26-year-old woman from Maryland, who was nine months pregnant, was found dead in a Newark apartment. The woman’s husband has been charged with her murder. The baby did not survive.
“As these families begin 2014 on a very difficult and long journey toward healing, we pledge our very best efforts to bring these cases to a just resolution in each case,” Murray said.
Murray declined to comment on details or motives for the crimes, but said authorities had confirmed that Zainee Hailey and Friedland were innocent bystanders. Authorities have said Friedland was targeted solely because of the model of his vehicle.
Anthony Ambrose, chief of detectives for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, said 2013 was a record year in Essex County for multiple killings _ in which two or more people are killed in one incident _ and said law enforcement was contending with perpetrators carrying increasingly high-powered weaponry, such as automatic weapons.
Hailey’s grandfather, who served with the U.S. Army in Somalia in 1993, said he was unnerved by the rising level of violence that claimed his granddaughter just hours after she played with her newly unwrapped Christmas gifts.
“It’s got to stop somewhere, it’s out of control,” Peterson said. “I am a disabled veteran, and I ain’t been around more weapons than I see now.”
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