Star East Orange Campus High School basketball player murdered

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — The East Orange community is grieving the death of 16-year-old Letrell Duncan, a star basketball player at East Orange Campus High School, where he was a sophomore.

According to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and East Orange Police Department, on Oct. 3 at approximately 3:15 p.m., just after school let out, Duncan was found suffering from multiple gunshot wounds on the 100 block of Lincoln Street in East Orange. He was taken to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m.

The investigation is active and ongoing. No arrests have been made. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office tips line at 877-847-7432. Calls will be kept confidential.

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura announced on Oct. 4 that the Essex County Sheriff’s Crime Stoppers Program is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for Duncan’s murder.

Duncan was best known in the community for his prolific basketball skills. He was a key varsity player for the EOCHS basketball team last year when, as a freshman, he made honorable mention for the all–Super Essex Conference–Liberty Division, an honor bestowed following a vote among coaches. In his freshman season, he scored 180 points for the team, helping the team achieve a 15-9 season record.

“As a young man, he was well liked here at the school,” EOCHS athletic director Mike Baldwin told the Record-Transcript. “Definitely, he was one of our star athletes. He was definitely on the radar to be our No. 1 player this year. He is going to be missed. Everybody from the mayor to the Board of Education, superintendent, the principal, they have been extremely supportive of the basketball team, our athletes and our student body.”

In addition to playing for EOCHS, Duncan was the captain of a club hoops team, Garden State Bounce.

“He was an excellent teammate, a great friend and a coach’s ideal player,” Garden State Bounce officials wrote on social media. “Our floor general, team captain and the best point guard our program has seen. You’ve set the bar. We are heartbroken.”

East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green assured the community that EOPD is working closely with the ECPO to solve this crime and that they are committed to finding Duncan’s killers.

“Yesterday, a young man’s life was brazenly cut short by a senseless act of violence that we will never normalize in our city — 16-year-old Letrell Duncan deserves more,” Green said on Oct. 4. “Our young people are hurting. And so am I. This shooting has shaken our community to its core, and collectively we must come together to prioritize and protect our young people. EOPD has increased patrols in our school corridors, and we are taking aggressive action to ensure gun violence does not disrupt our community. 

“We need our children to feel safe traveling throughout our city,” he continued. “Anything else is unacceptable. I’ve been tough on crime since day one and I will remain that way — investing in more police officers and getting illegal guns off the street. But we also are investing in positive opportunities for our young people to mitigate the systemic pressures and disparities that put our youth at risk. I express my personal condolences to the family and those impacted by yesterday’s tragedy, and I join our community in mourning this terrible loss.”

Councilwoman Amy Lewis, who chairs the public safety committee, affirmed the work the EOPD is doing to keep residents safe and expressed her grief over Duncan’s death.

“We lost yet another precious life in our community — a young man who had goals and aspirations, but unfortunately, will never reach those goals,” Lewis said. “On behalf of myself and my council colleagues, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the family. Although our East Orange Police Department is working with our East Orange Board of Education to do everything they can to maintain safe corridors for our children, there has to be something else we can do as a community.

“Our children have to start looking at each other as peers and friends, and certainly not enemies. We all are a part of one another in the sense that if you hurt one, you hurt all. I sincerely pray that we will get to that point without losing so many of our children in the process,” she continued. “I am asking everyone to continuously pray for our community. My hope and prayer are that we continue to love one another.”

Last week, the school district brought in crisis counselors for students, Superintendent of Schools AbdulSaleem Hasan said.

“There has been a growing concern about the spread of violence, not only in our community, but also across the nation. Violence creates trauma for the people directly involved as well as for those in surrounding neighborhoods and communities,” he said. “We are committed to working together, supporting each other and partnering with local officials who work to keep our communities safe every day. I would like to reassure you that our students’ safety is, and will always be, the No. 1 priority for the East Orange School District.”

Since the shooting, the East Orange community has come together in several ways to mourn Duncan’s death, to decry the gun violence that takes young black lives across the country and to support Duncan’s family.

Community members and activists gathered on Lincoln Street near Park Avenue on Oct. 10 to remember Duncan. Those who spoke addressed various issues, including gun control, mental health, educational disparities, fractured families and black-on-black crime, while also making a call to action for the organization and implementation of workable solutions that will help to end the epidemic of gun violence in local communities.

Earlier, on Oct. 6, a candlelight vigil was held in Rowley Park, drawing hundreds of community members to remember Duncan.

Additionally, a fundraiser was set up for the Duncan family to pay for funeral costs. With a goal of $25,000, the fundraiser had already, as of press time on Oct. 11, raised more than $31,000 for the family.

Photos of Oct. 10 vigil courtesy of East Orange City Hall