The last time that Johnny Turner spoke to Jovan Wooten, they were separated by a phone line.
The call was brief: a check-in by Wooten on a family event they were planning. He made the call Sept. 20.
“I didn’t think I would never talk to him again,” Turner said. “It was so quick.”
On Sept. 23, Wooten, a former standout high-school football player in the Hardware City, was grievously wounded in what police described as a four-person gunfight on Albany Avenue.
Another victim, whose name police haven’t released, died almost instantly. But Wooten, 37, clung to life in St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center for days on life support.
He drew his last breath as his family looked on just before midnight on Sept. 29, Turner said. He’ll be laid to rest early Thursday after a funeral service at Mount Olive Church of God In Christ in New Britain.
Emotion thickened Turner’s voice as he described his cousin, a brother in all but name.
“He was genuine; I have a million cousins, but he really cared about me,” Turner said over the din in Blaze Barbershop, the business he started at 19. “He never took advantage of me, like other cousins who only call when they need something.”
Wooten “never got in trouble,” Turner said. He had no criminal record, and the pistol police found him clutching when they arrived at the shooting was licensed to him.
Investigators say the brazen exchange of gunfire on one of the city’s busiest streets was motivated by drugs. Few details were publicly available Wednesday, but the probe into it was progressing, according to Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley.
As the facts of that night remained unclear, Wooten’s family was mired in their own theories.
“He wasn’t a dealer. He didn’t even drink or use drugs,” Turner said. “My guess is that he was trying to protect someone else there. Because that’s what he did, he protected people.”
The last few months were tough on Wooten. Nearly a decade’s worth of work at Bob’s Discount Furniture in Southington had left him worn out, physically and emotionally.
Frustrated, he quit to take a job with Primerica, a multi-level marketing company that sells insurance. But two weeks into his new job, he quit, Turner said.
“He was collecting unemployment and looking for work,” he added. “I know he was frustrated.”
Wooten drew strength from his three daughters, Turner said. He was a constant presence in their lives, bringing them to the basketball games he and Turner played when his girlfriend had to work late.
“He always was a role model,” said LaToya Young, Wooten’s younger sister. “Even for me, growing up, he was more like a father figure.”
Young flew up to Connecticut from Alabama hours after she received the news that her brother had been shot.
Like Turner, she had spoken to Wooten just a few days prior. They discussed plans for her wedding, set a year from now.
Wooten was going to walk her down the aisle, a stand-in for her father. Young paused as she recounted the details of their last talk, of the confusion and pain she felt ahead of her brother’s funeral.
“I just want everyone to know, no matter what, that my brother was a kind-hearted person,” she said. “That’s how I want him to be remembered.”