James Womack knew long ago the struggle for his youngest son's future would be a tug of war between family and the streets.
Womack ran a strict household in a comfortable Manchester apartment, with mandatory family dinners and 9 p.m. curfews. But the boy he called ``Tre'' and raised on and off from infancy was ``always a troubled kid,'' he recalled -- so troubled he would spend nearly half his life in juvenile detention centers.
So on Friday, James Womack said he wasn't surprised that Atryal, at age 18, became Hartford's first homicide victim of 2007, gunned down Thursday night in the North End.
Hartford police received a report about 8:30 p.m. Thursday that Womack had been shot once in the chest behind a building at 78-81 Mather St. He died less than two hours later at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said Friday that Womack's death was being investigated as a gang-related murder. He said detectives are probing whether Womack's claimed association with an organized street gang was a factor. No suspects were identified on Friday.
In interviews Friday, Womack family members told of a boy who was intelligent and respectful of family elders but drawn to the drugs and violence of the streets.
Atryal Womack was just a kid when he first proclaimed his allegiance to the Crips in Hartford -- a street gang that borrowed the name of a notoriously violent West Coast gang. He was attending the Bentley School in Manchester when he wrote to a teacher about his gang connection. He wrote about a ``death wish,'' his father and stepmother, Rhonda Womack, remembered Friday.
But back six or so years ago, other members of Atryal's family of eight brothers and sisters weren't sure whether to take the boy's claims seriously.
His uncle, Larry Womack, knew only a polite youth. ``I didn't know that street side of him. He was respectful. He was a handsome kid.'' James Womack saw his son in a different light.
At 14, when Atryal was facing a jail sentence for the first time, Womack agreed to send him to Mount St. John in Deep River, a school and residential treatment program for youths with behavioral, family and educational problems. Womack said Atryal stayed there for a year.
Atryal returned to the family's apartment in Manchester, where he had his own spacious room with a computer, video games and his own telephone. But he had an eye on sneaking back to his friends on Hartford's streets.
``He was affiliated with gangs back then,'' Womack said. ``He went to Mount St. John and he never stopped.''
When Atryal was home, Womack said, he stayed closeted up in his bedroom and wasn't interested in joining the family's Bible study at the kitchen table.
``He was bright and a good student,'' his father said. ``As long as he was incarcerated he would go to school. But he couldn't stay there forever.''
``He made straight A's'' when he was smaller, his stepmother said.
``That boy was smart enough to be anything he wanted to be,'' his father declared. ``But he chose the streets. I think it was the boredom in his life.''
After his release from Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire about a year ago, Atryal came home more brazen and with more tattoos -- a gun on one arm and a teardrop under one eye. Womack said Atryal's jail friends started calling him ``AK-47 ''after the assault rifle.
He was arrested in June for drug possession after a dispute with his girlfriend, was convicted in September and received a six-year suspended sentence and probation. By that time, his father said, Atryal was living on the streets of Hartford, sleeping wherever he could find a bed -- sometimes in vacant buildings.
James Womack argued with his son about his gang affiliation. He said Atryal told him his gang involvement had gotten him into a fight in jail.
Womack said his son confided that he fought with a fellow Crip after becoming friendly with a teenager who had joined the Bloods, a rival local gang that also took the name of a West Coast gang. After he got out of jail, Womack said, Atryal pointed out the man and said the man had tried to shoot him last fall on Albany Avenue.
``I think all of this [his murder] leads back to that,'' Womack said. ``I was afraid to ride in a car with him.''
Roberts, the police chief, said the area of Mather Street where Womack was fatally wounded has been identified as Bloods turf.
Roberts said the gangs' presence in Hartford became evident late last year when their names were scrawled on buildings in Hartford's North End.
Police ask anyone with information about the shooting to call Lt. Scott Samson, commander of the major crimes division, at 860-527-7300, Ext. 5230, or the department's confidential tip line, at 860-527-TIPS (8477).