On Sept. 10, people passing by a street corner in Hoboken during evening rush hour found the body of 46-year-old Ralph Eric Santiago, a homeless man, slumped against a fence. Homicide detectives were able to view video from nearby cameras that showed two males allegedly following him from behind, and a third jumping out in front to knock him out.
A week ago, three Jersey City teenagers, ages 13 and 14, were taken into custody after turning themselves in, in connection with the incident. The suspects’ court proceedings will be held in family court, said Assistant County Prosecutor Gene Rubino in a phone interview on Thursday. Such proceedings are closed to the public.
Last week, the matter made newspapers across the country and even in Britain, because prosecutors speculated that the perpetrators had been playing a game of “knockout.”
Knockout, sometimes referred to as The Knockout Game or Knockout King, involves approaching an unwitting pedestrian and striking him on the head in an effort to render him or her unconscious.
Several assaults and homicides have been attributed to the game dating back to 1992, when newspapers reported that a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was allegedly killed by three Cambridge, Mass. teens playing the game. The student was robbed and stabbed.
In 2011, an elderly man in St. Louis, Mo., died in the hospital after being struck by a teenager while walking home with his wife. And in January, a 17-year-old Minnesotan, Jesse Jean Smithers, was charged as an adult in the murder, manslaughter, and assault of Colton Gleason, who was walking home with two friends when Smithers allegedly attacked him from behind.
Almost every documented case of knockout involves teenagers, and a quick Youtube search of the term returns numerous videos of such an act.
According to a press release issued by Rubino a week ago following the arrests, homicide detectives believe that the youths took the Hudson Bergen Light Rail to Hoboken, allegedly followed Santiago down Third Street. Between Jefferson and Adams, one of them allegedly struck him in the head.
Santiago collapsed onto a fence separating the sidewalk from the apartment building, wedging his neck between the two iron posts, and died.
The suspects’ names are not being released due to their ages.
Santiago was especially vulnerable because he had been struck in a similar attack 27 years earlier in his native Bronx. He had spent time in the hospital in a coma after that incident, and was never the same. At some point, he moved to Hoboken, where his mother lived.
Last week, flowers were still being placed at the scene to memorialize Santiago.
A woman named Judy, who was watching her child at a park near the area of the incident, said the matter was sad.
“It just seems so pointless to do that to someone,” she said. “For a game too. Who wins?”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com