NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A 23-year-old man was killed by gunfire shortly after 10am on a Sunday morning at what has become the city’s most dangerous hotspot for gun violence.
But three days after Nathaniel Bernard Edwards, Jr., was shot at the corner of Remsen Avenue and Seaman Street, prosecutors and police still won’t publicly admit that his life was taken.
Authorities have acknowledged that they responded to find a gunshot victim at approximately 10:18am on January 9.
“Upon their arrival, officers located one male who sustained a gunshot wound,” reads a statement issued later that day by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO). “The victim was transported to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries and remains in critical condition.”
But, by the time that statement was released, Edwards had already passed away at the hospital, according to multiple sources.
The sources say that two people have been arrested and charged in connection with the killing, but the MCPO’s appointed spokesman, Assistant Prosecutor Connor Oullette has not released any information, identified the victim, or even admitted that the case is indeed a murder.
“I expect something forthcoming tonight regarding the victim’s identity. Otherwise, MCPO must decline to comment,” Oullette said at 5:31pm on January 11.
But the MCPO, led by County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone, still has not issued a follow-up statement more than 20 hours later.
The killing marks the third gun murder at the corner of Remsen and Seaman in just over ten weeks, and the Hub City’s first murder of 2022.
“It’s a war going on up there,” said one source.
Last year, of New Brunswick’s nine reported homicides, eight involved guns and three of those occurred in the immediate vicinity of Remsen and Seaman. By comparison, there were four murders officially reported in 2020, making for a 125% increase in homicides last year.
It’s also at least the third fatal shooting to take place in broad daylight since April 19, 2021, when Delfino Aparicio-Lopez, a 46-year-old taxi driver from New Brunswick, was killed by a stray bullet intended for someone else, causing a three-car crash near the entrance to Feaster Park.
On July 29, 2021, another city neighborhood near a public park was the scene of a daytime murder. Authorities responded at 8:31am to the area near Joyce Kilmer Park, and later arrested and charged two 17-year-olds with shooting and stabbing 25-year-old Omar Maroquin-Levaya.
But city officials are now attempting to refuse to answer questions about the numbers of murders and shootings in settings like City Council meetings, where residents including this reporter regularly bring forward concerns about the skyrocketing violence plaguing some parts of the city.
At their most recent meeting, City Council President Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig deviated from the long-standing practice of referring police questions to the New Brunswick Police Department during City Council meetings.
“Due to the nature of inquiries regarding police and fire departments, those requests should be made in writing to the appropriate person in the appropriate manner, whether that be email or [Open Public Records Act],” Sicora-Ludwig declared as she presided over the first Council meeting of 2022.
But on January 5, Sicora-Ludwig refused to let NBPD Deputy Director JT Miller answer the basic questions, such as “How many murders were there in 2021 in the city?”
“If you have those types of questions, you’re going to have to reach out to the police department via their chosen form of communication.”
The change came after many meetings where Miller was given the floor to respond to New Brunswick Today’s questions, only to refuse to answer how many shootings had taken place in the city.
Sicora-Ludwig pretended that she was not changing the practice.
“This isn’t a practice change… My policy has been to get comments and I address them at the following meeting,” said Sicora-Ludwig.
But the meeting recordings tell a different story. As recently as October 6, Sicora-Ludwig referred questions about police matters to Miller, who is typically the highest-ranking police official in attendance at the Council meetings.
Police Director Anthony Caputo has not attended City Council meetings since he was re-hired by Mayor James Cahill in 2011. Cahill has not attended a Council meeting since 2012.
While gun violence has been an increasing concern in many different parts of the city, nowhere has it been more pronounced than at the troubled corner of Remsen and Seaman.
On February 27, 2021, a 51-year-old New Brunswick resident named Jose Medero was shot and killed there. Authorities determined that 20-year-old Bound Brook resident John Santanna “shot Medero while the victim was seated in his vehicle.”
Just over six months later, on the night of November 2, a 32-year-old Franklin Township resident named Lorenzo Hill Staten was shot and killed in the same area.
It’s still unclear who fired those shots, but authorities say they apprehended two New Brunswick men who they believe were responsible for the murder.
“Jhon German-Suarez, 24, and Wendis Rodriguez-Quiles, 31, both of New Brunswick conspired to shoot and kill Hill Staten,” reported the MCPO, which said their arrests were made in the Bronx on November 15.
But by that time, another life had already been claimed at the corner, in another gun murder that many believe came in retaliation for the November 2 murder.
On the night of November 7, 39-year-old Rafael Florez-Lopez was gunned down on Remsen Avenue, just steps away from Seaman Street, in the ninth and final New Brunswick murder to be reported in 2021. Another man was also shot in that incident, though the MCPO still has not released his identity.
“I have been able to confirm Mr. Florez-Lopez was in fact pronounced dead at the scene and not at a hospital as previously provided for in prior press releases,” Oullette told New Brunswick Today on January 10, after failing to address our questions about the discrepancy for more than 50 days. No corrections have been issued to the releases.
On December 1, authorities announced two arrests in that case, including a Georgia resident with the same last name as Lorenzo Hill Staten.
Authorities said investigators “identified Jajuan Hill-Staten, 34, of Stock Bridge, Georgia, as the gunman.” A North Brunswick resident named Quron Hoagland was also arrested and charged with transporting Hill-Staten to and from the crime scene.
The MCPO did not state what relationship Jajuan Hill-Staten has to the victim of the November 2 murder, and declined to answer questions about the motive for the killing. Jajuan Hill-Staten was arrested in Winter Park, Florida.
“This Office must limit its comments regarding the motive for the murder to those placed on the record in open court and, therefore, must respectfully decline to comment,” Oullette told New Brunswick Today.
Like German-Suarez and Rodriguez-Quiles, Jajuan Hill-Staten was held in an out-of-state jail awaiting extradition. Authorities have not provided updates on the process of returning these three individuals to New Jersey to face trials.
In the most recent homicide, authorities have not announced any charges, suspects, or arrests. They are asking for the public’s assistance in solving the case.
“Anyone with information or surveillance footage of the area is asked to call Detective Brandt Gregus of the New Brunswick Police Department at (732)745-5200 or Detective Ryan Tighe of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office at (732)745-4335,” reads the MCPO statement.