Slain teen’s mom speaks to kids about gangs

Newsday, September 14, 2011
Erica Boynton's 15-year-old son, Christopher Hamilton, shown here

Photo credit: Kevin P. Coughlin | Newsday

Two years after Erica Boynton’s 15-year-old son was shot dead at a party one block from their Brentwood home, grief still drives her quest for answers and justice.

In an effort to prevent others from experiencing the mourning from which she has no shelter, she is scheduled Thursday to appear at an assembly at South Middle School to kick off what she hopes will be a speaking tour at several Brentwood schools.

“I don’t want their parents to go through the same thing that I’ve been through,” said Boynton, 38, a home care worker whose son Christopher Hamiliton was killed in 2009. “If you have a problem with gangs, talk to someone.”

She also wants answers about her son’s unsolved slaying.

“The answer lies within the schools,” Boynton said. “The problem is within the schools.”

Boynton said she believes gangs recruit students early in their academic careers. “Chris’ problems started in the schools and spilled into the streets,” Boynton said, adding that her son, a South Middle graduate and high school freshman, was killed because he refused to back down from gangs.

Hamilton was shot in the head while standing outside his best friend’s house. Suffolk County police have released few details and have made no arrests in the case.

Last April, Boynton and other members of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens began speaking with Brentwood school officials about having parents of murder victims meet with students. In cities nationwide, parents such as Boynton often speak with students, prisoners and other groups about such things as gang violence, drug addiction and cyberbullying, said Nancy Ruhe, executive director of the Cincinnati-based National Organization of Parents Of Murdered Children.

“The most important thing for survivors is to find a purpose and a meaning to give to their loved one’s life,” she said. “It’s to help get through to people.”

Rick Belyea, a Brentwood schools spokesman, said Boynton will be among several speakers at Thursday’s school assembly. “It’s a program designed to not just make people aware of gang violence, but to let people know there are people around who can help,” he said. “I would like [students] to form a bond with Erica and open up.”

Karen Smith, president of South Middle School Parent Teacher Association, said she understands Boynton’s potential impact on students. “Maybe if they see how much it hurts this mother, they’ll empathize with her,” she said.

Boynton hopes to speak at another middle school next month and at Brentwood High School in November.

In the meantime, Boynton’s home remains a monument to her son. A white quilt with “rest in peace” and goodbye messages penned across it hangs near her front door. The corner of her living room is filled with photos of Hamilton. A black-and-white banner displays the dates he was born and died.