Police arrested a suspect Thursday in the stabbing death of a teenager who had rebuffed the advances of two men at a city bus stop in Newark, N.J., by declaring she was a lesbian. The arrest came as a crowd of 300 rallied outside Newark City Hall to decry the death of Sakia Gunn, 15, who was stabbed in the chest early Sunday at the city's busiest intersection. Accompanied by his attorney, Richard McCullough, 29, turned himself in to police at 5 p.m. Thursday, just as the rally was breaking up, Lt. Derek Glenn said. He faces charges including murder and bias intimidation. Gunn, a sophomore at West Side High School, died at Newark's University Hospital shortly after being transported there.
"Nobody had the right to take my child away," the victim's mother, Latona Gunn, told the crowd outside City Hall, some of whom represented gay rights groups. "Nobody deserves to die the way she did." Sakia Gunn's friend Esh Walker said it was well-known among students at West Side that Gunn was gay and that no one bothered her because of it. Another friend, Jaimekai Johnson, said she helped organize the rally to bring attention to the danger that bias poses to all people. "We want justice, not only for Sakia but for every victim of a bias crime," she said.
The demonstrators wore white headbands with Gunn's name on them and T-shirts with slogans such as "We Will Miss You, Baby Girl." Gunn's cousin Anthony Hall addressed the crowd from the steps of City Hall, angrily denouncing Mayor Sharpe James and what he termed inadequate police protection in the area. "Your kid could be dead, just like my cousin is," he said. "We need to stop this madness. Who is someone to judge anybody else? No one has that right. It shouldn't matter whether you're gay or not." The mayor was not at the rally Thursday, but he attended a press conference at police headquarters. "We will not tolerate bias crime in the city of Newark," James said.
On the night of the stabbing, Gunn and several girlfriends were waiting at a Newark bus stop after a night out in New York City's Greenwich Village. McCullough was the passenger in a 1988 Chevrolet station wagon that pulled up to the girls at around 3:20 a.m., authorities said. McCullough and the driver, who has not been charged, got out to talk to the girls. Gunn was stabbed after she said she was a lesbian, authorities said. A Newark police booth is located at the intersection where the stabbing occurred, but it was not staffed at the time. The mayor said the booth has not been manned between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. for several years, after an analysis showed that there was too little activity at the intersection to justify an overnight police presence there.
Gay rights advocates said they hoped to raise community awareness of the dangers of antigay bias.
"We're horrified that this could happen in New Jersey, which has a reputation as a more open, accepting state," said Michael Blake, president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, a statewide organization of GLBT Democrats. "It shows that violence against gays can happen anywhere."