Over the past four years, Joshua McCleland was an irregular fit at three Hartford high schools, where educators tried to persuade the teen they described as a respectful young man with a quick wit to choose education over the call of the city's streets.
The streets proved too strong a lure. McCleland, 18, was fatally shot at close range Sunday evening on Blue Hills Avenue in a quiet residential section of Hartford's North End.
His killing, Hartford's third in 2007, was described in chilling detail by witnesses and police.
McCleland was walking down Blue Hills Avenue with another male shortly before 6:30 p.m. when they got into an argument. Witnesses told police the assailant pulled out a gun and shot McCleland at least twice before McCleland fled across the street.
He fell to the ground near the Jumoke Academy, a magnet school at 250 Blue Hills Ave. The shooter crossed the street, stood over McCleland's body and shot him several more times.
Then, witnesses told police, the shooter pulled a hood over his head and calmly walked away.
McCleland was rushed to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center where he was pronounced dead about 7:30 p.m.
The shooter was described as a black male about 6 feet tall, who wore a shirt with the number 56 in red on the front, and blue jeans. No one has been arrested, and no suspects were named Monday. Detectives are appealing to the public for more information.
Witnesses said they heard six gunshots before police arrived about 6:30 p.m.
McCleland, known on the street as ``Juice,'' had a challenging school life over the past four years, school officials said Monday. He attended Weaver High School during the 2003-04 school year, transferred to the Hartford Transitional Learning Academy for the 2004-05 school year, and went to Capital Preparatory Magnet School in 2005-06, school officials said.
He registered at Weaver High last September but never attended classes. He was declared a dropout in October, Principal Paul Stringer said.
School officials said McCleland found it difficult to make the transition from Hartford Transitional Learning Academy, a school for emotionally disturbed students who exhibit a history of negative behavior, to Capital Preparatory Magnet School, a highly structured school that has high expectations and pushes students toward four-year colleges.
At the learning academy, students are allowed to dress as they would on the streets. But Capital Prep requires boys to wear a shirt with a collar, tie and a blazer.
His killing had an impact on students and staff members at all three schools Monday as news of the shooting spread. While McCleland was remembered fondly because of his quick wit and his ability to negotiate himself out of difficult situations, school officials said they were aware of his ongoing struggle to balance the requirements of school with the lure of street life.
``I got that terrible news,'' said Dwight Fleming, principal of HTLA. ``Joshua had hope,'' said Fleming who remembers that McCleland's mother brought him to the school, hoping he would ``learn to make his life better.''
He was ``a bright kid with terrible ways,'' he said, declining to elaborate. ``He could have made it, if we held on to him a little longer.''
At Capital Prep, McCleland found himself a frequent visitor to the principal's office, said Principal Steve Perry, who counseled McCleland about the rigorous goals the school set for its students. A uniform was purchased for him, but, Perry said, McCleland was indecisive about his educational goals.
``At times, I believed he wanted to do it right,'' said Perry, adding he counseled McCleland about becoming a better student, coming to school on time and doing homework that generally takes most students at Capital Prep from two to four hours each school night.
``You are making the wrong decisions,'' Perry recalls telling McCleland, who invited his friends, who weren't students, inside the school building. ``You are on the wrong team,'' Perry said he warned McCleland of the consequences of choosing the streets.
While McCleland had difficulties adjusting academically, Perry said, there was a point when he understood that people cared about him. ``He never disrespected me. He always said, `Yes, Mr. Perry.' ... This school went out of the way to make sure this young man attended school. I liked him,'' Perry said. ``In the end, he made a choice. He picked a team.''
Hartford police ask that anyone with information about the victim and the incident contact Lt. Scott Sansom, commander of Hartford Police Department's Major Crimes Division at 860-757-4255, or call the police department's confidential crime tip hot line at 860-527-TIPS (8477).