Just a game?
Death of homeless man sparks concerns
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Sep 29, 2013 | 3960 views | 0 0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RALPH REMEMBERED – A makeshift memorial was constructed at the scene of Ralph Eric Santiago’s Sept. 10 death. Three boys are in custody in connection with the incident.
RALPH REMEMBERED – A makeshift memorial was constructed at the scene of Ralph Eric Santiago’s Sept. 10 death. Three boys are in custody in connection with the incident.
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Parents interviewed at a park near where 46-year-old Ralph Eric Santiago was murdered on Third Street in Hoboken on Sept. 10 said they are being a bit more careful about letting their kids out after dark.

Three young Jersey City teenagers, ages 13 and 14, remain in custody after turning themselves in a week ago in connection the death of Santiago, a homeless man. Santiago’s body was found against a fence during evening rush hour on Sept. 10 at Third and Jefferson streets.

Law enforcement authorities had obtained various videos that led them to the suspects. One video, they said, showed two people following Santiago, and one jumping out in front of him to knock him out. They believe the teens were playing the violent inner city game “knockout.”

News about the game and the death sent made newspapers around the world, including at least one in Britain.

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.

According to a press release issued by Rubino 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.

Parents wary

In the 1990s, Hoboken generally had one murder per year, usually in or near the projects in the southwest part of town – but in recent years, the number had gone down to zero. Still, several parents near the site said that they will now be more careful about letting their children out after dark.

One parent, who asked to be identified as only Judy, was at the park with her 5-year-old. She said that she had instructed her 13-year-old, who regularly visits the park alone or with friends, to be home by nightfall.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” she said. “But this is an urban area and there is crime and terrible things happen.”

Santiago’s murder occurred in broad daylight.

“There are only so many precautions you can take,” said Judy, who said Hoboken on the whole was a safe place to raise children. “It’s not like we can live with fear.”

Still, she was saddened.

“It just seems so pointless to do that to someone,” she said. “For a game too. Who wins?”

On Thursday, flowers were still being placed at the scene to memorialize Santiago.

‘Knockout’

Knockout, sometimes referred to as The Knockout Game or Knockout King, involves approaching an unwitting pedestrian and striking him on the head as hard as possible 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. Many of the videos contain suggestions that the game has racial and ethnic undertones.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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