Many family of victims in Camden praise Obama's gun proposals

LaTonya Williams with a photo of daughter Anjanea, killed in 2011 in Camden. She endorses universal background checks, harsher penalties.
LaTonya Williams with a photo of daughter Anjanea, killed in 2011 in Camden. She endorses universal background checks, harsher penalties. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 17, 2013

Fernando Santiago was cooking pancakes for his 2-year-old son Oct. 13 when a daughter called to say that an older brother had been fatally shot in Camden. The family buried him seven days later.

Then on Nov. 8, one of Santiago's brothers was shot in the head in Camden. The family took Armando Carlo Jr., 32, off life support about two weeks later.

"It was a tough 2012," Santiago said Wednesday. "I didn't know if I was coming or going. I couldn't function."

In Camden - which saw a record 67 homicides last year, and where many shootings are committed with illegally obtained handguns - families of homicide victims generally praised President Obama's approach to curbing gun violence, particularly his call for serious penalties for gun trafficking.

"They've got to put task forces out there. You got to fight fire with fire," said Santiago, 48, a warehouse manager from Lumberton. His son from a previous marriage, Lateaf Fernando Anderson, 30, was with a woman when he was shot multiple times by her former boyfriend. "You've got to stop the gun trafficking."

LaTonya Williams, whose daughter, Anjanea, 20, was killed in 2011 in Camden, said the push was a long time coming.

"Great, you're making the effort, but it's one of those things where you say, a little too late," she said. "Sandy Hook is what made this relevant right now, but [gun violence] has been going on for years."

She endorsed universal background checks and harsher penalties for illegal gun possession.

Gov. Christie and New Jersey lawmakers, including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), proclaimed the need for more comprehensive mental-health services. So did a Camden antiviolence activist.

"You don't just become a 6-year-old thinking about suicide or a 10-year-old thinking about grabbing a gun and shooting someone. Those are learned behaviors," said Micah Khan, whose Nehemiah Group offers social services to ex-convicts. "They can be reprogrammed through therapy and mental-health counseling."

Besides issuing a slew of executive orders, the president also called for universal background checks and reinstating the federal assault-weapons ban.

New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in America, including restrictions on magazines and an assault-weapons ban, but Christie and legislative leaders said they would revisit the statutes.

Some state lawmakers have already introduced legislation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and others said they planned to introduce more measures, including some to address mental-health issues.

When asked about guns during his 100th town hall meeting, in Manahawkin, Christie said he would have more to say soon on the president's orders.

"We're certainly going to look at how New York has done it," he said of legislation just enacted in the neighboring state. "They did it very quickly, and I want to make sure we do it the right way." He has refused to give his opinion on a federal assault-weapons ban.

Laverne Hicks, whose son Vernon, 31, was fatally shot in October 2011 in Camden, said job opportunities and activities to prevent young people from turning to drugs was one way to curb gun violence.

"There are no laws or executive orders that will curb violence until you put these youth to work," said Hicks, an undertaker. In 30 years, he said, he had dressed numerous murder victims' bodies, but never imagined that one day he would have to dress the body of his son.

Ketsy Crespo, 38, of Camden, whose younger brother Edwin, 33, was fatally shot along with Carlo, said there must be a two-pronged approach that tackles gun trafficking and curbs the flow of drugs.

"How is it that these criminals have better guns than the police officers and the military do?" she asked. "When they figure out that question, that's when they're going to have better control of the violence in the streets."

Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

Inquirer staff writer Matt Katz contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus