Like most of us, Arsenio Santiago and Ashley Sebastian gave thanks to the man upstairs on Thursday.
Not to be confused with the men upstairs.
Because when friends and family of Santiago and Sebastian sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, men were upstairs in their townhouse-style apartment. Those men were Manchester police detectives, who were measuring bullet trajectories and digging a .40-caliber slug out of a wall.
The bullet hole remains, a couple of feet above the railing of the crib where JazMarie Santiago, who is 3, plays and sleeps.
JazMarie was in her room when, according to police, a gun-loving Maine man, Jeremey Sterling, 25, proved his ‘toughness’ by allegedly shooting an unarmed 39-year-old woman and spraying the neighborhood with .40 caliber slugs.
The shooting took place in the parking lot outside of JazMarie’s window.
At the time, she was hiding in her toy box while goofing around with a 9-year-old playmate, according to court records.
“It was a miracle. My daughter is always playing on the bed,” Sebastian said. “Our angels were definitely looking over us.”
The hole in the screen of JazMarie’s bedroom window is about the size of a nickel. A quarter-size hole is in the window pane. An L-shaped tear is in the shade. A bullet hole is in the wall a few feet above the crib.
Fifteen people, including nine children, were gathered in the apartment for Thanksgiving dinner, most of them downstairs, Santiago said. The music was on, and he didn’t hear anything. His 13-year-old nephew came downstairs and told everyone he just saw someone get shot.
“We didn’t believe him at first,” Santiago said.
From his daughter’s bedroom, Santiago looked out the window and saw a man crouching behind his car. Santiago called 911, eventually the police came and a real-life CSI scene started unfolding in their home.
“We were just getting ready to serve the kids,” Santiago said.
He let detectives into the home, and they undertook their forensic work while the family ate Thanksgiving dinner. The police left about 10:30 p.m.
This wasn’t some commonplace shooting in the center city over some gang-related, drug turf dispute. This took place at Elmwood Gardens, a south Manchester public housing project usually brimming with kids.
It would be hard for Sterling not to know that. According to a police affidavit filed in the case, he spent at least two nights at Elmwood Gardens at his girlfriend’s place.
The Elmwood Gardens community has done a lot to make the neighborhood a good place for a kid to grow up. There is a leadership group, an activity center, a computer lab and sewing classes. The yards are spotless, with well-worn lawns (a sign of happy kids) about the only blemish.
It is the setting of “KooKooLand,” last year’s page-turning memoir of former Elmwood Gardens resident Gloria Norris. Police brass such as Chief Nick Willard visit on occasion to build rapport with the kids. And John Lynch was a frequent guest when he was governor, befriending and advocating for many of the residents.
It’s a safe place. But that didn’t matter when Sterling opted — allegedly — to make his Wild West stand, shoot the mother of an adversary, allegedly, and spray apartments with bullets, allegedly.
He not only allegedly wounded Shannon Presutti, he wounded the sense of safety that Sebastian had developed over the four years she has lived at Elmwood Gardens.
“I don’t want to be here,” Sebastian said Friday morning, explaining how while she’s always wary outside, there used to be one safe place to turn. “I don’t feel safe in my home anymore.”