Organizer of Hartford tournament where man was shot and killed speaks out

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HARTFORD -- When gunfire interrupted the Heat on the Street basketball tournament Saturday afternoon, event organizer Maurice Eastwood didn't see who did it, but did see the aftermath.

"I just saw people running. I wasn't sure what took place, where the shots came from, nothing of the sort," explained Eastwood. "I just saw people panicking."

For the first time since the shooting that left one man dead, Eastwood is ready to tell his side of the story publicly. The 23-year-old Central Connecticut State University senior addressed the media during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, along with his attorney Ronald Johnson.

Eastwood began by expressing his condolences to those impacted by the shooting. He says he's reached out to the family of James Headen Jr., the innocent bystander and father of two who was shot in the head at the tournament and later died.

"I reached out to the family. They're behind me 100 percent. The community's behind me 100 percent," said Eastwood.

Fox CT spoke with Headen’s mother off camera. She said she was happy to hear her son wasn't the intended target of the shooting, because he wasn't a violent person and had no enemies.

But Eastwood says he’s faced some backlash after statements from Hartford Police and Hartford Public Schools were released regarding the shooting.

Eastwood said, "It's just sad to know that somebody lost their life and I'm receiving heat for not having a permit or not having food license."

Police tell Fox CT they didn't know about the tournament. Officers say if they had, there would have been a police presence, and it might have ended differently.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Hartford Public Schools said the tournament organizers didn't get permission or the proper permits to use the Sarah Rawson School courts.

During the press conference, Eastwood defended his efforts. He says he tried to contact the city, the school and even some lawmakers about the tournament.

"When I reached out to [the Parks and Rec Department], they sent me to reach out to the people at the public school. I went to the public school, they sent me to speak to the people at Parks and Rec," explained Eastwood.

He says he never heard back from anyone he contacted, so he moved forward with the event. Hundreds ended up attending the tournament.

"For police officers to say they knew nothing about that, how much community policing are they really doing that you didn't see 400-500 people out here?" said Eastwood.

This was the second year Eastwood organized the tournament. He says he didn't have a permit last year either, because he wasn't aware he needed one.

He says he organized the event to give people something positive to do. Eastwood said, "I put in everything that I had, no sleep, everything, and it was an hour away from being the perfect event."

He hopes what happened this year won't hold him back from doing it again next year, with all the proper permits and security.

There is a vigil planned for the victims at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Rawson School in honor of Headen.

The Hartford Public Schools superintendent sent the following letter home to Rawson School parents:

I want to express to you how very saddened I was to learn about the gun violence that occurred Saturday afternoon on the basketball court adjacent to Rawson Elementary School.

There are not words to express the senseless acts of violence that often occur in communities, including ours.

As the Superintendent of Schools and a parent, I know that this tragic event brings up strong emotions, but I want to urge you to remain calm and not allow it to reflect on or define our collective values.

We have been working in cooperation with the City of Hartford, the Hartford Police Department and community partners to handle this unfortunate situation.

Please be aware that members of the Hartford Crisis Response Team, My Brother’s Keeper and several faith partners will be canvassing the Blue Hills neighborhood on Thursday, July 2, 2015, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., distributing mental health materials and information on how those affected by this incident can receive counseling.

Also know that grief counseling will be available to Rawson students and their families upon their return to class on Monday, July 6.

I want to thank you for remaining steadfast and focused. I also want to extend a thank you to members of our staff, to all of our partners, and to all of our community brothers and sisters who have offered support in various forms over the past couple of days.

The best deterrent to street violence that we can contribute, is a loving and engaged Hartford Public Schools family, and success in school. Let’s continue working together to build our community. My thoughts are with you.