By Ron Leir
Potential tragedy was averted in the aftermath of the armed robbery of two Belleville teens on the morning of Friday, May 16.
The incident unfolded, police said, shortly before 8:30 a.m., as a group of youngsters waited for the bus in front of 64 Franklin St., near Lake St., that would take them to Belleville Middle School for morning classes.
Police said a male and female, both African-American, approached the group and asked for the time.
In response, police said, a 14-year-old boy pulled out his cellular phone to check. At that point, police said, the male suspect brandished a handgun and grabbed the phone.
Seeing that another boy, 13, had an earplug in his ear, the male suspect demanded what he figured was another phone but, after finding it wasn’t, punched the boy in the face.
Luckily, police said, the boy who was struck wasn’t seriously hurt and declined medical attention.
Then, police said, the two suspects ran across the street to what was later described as a blue Honda Accord parked on Lake St. and the driver and the pair sped off south on Lake into Newark. Police reportedly were aided by surveillance cameras capturing an image of the suspects’ vehicle.
Arriving at the scene soon after, police said they learned that the stolen phone, an iPhone 5s, had a tracking device through which police said they were able to track a car matching the description they had to Broadway and Third Ave. in Newark.
There, police arrested a 16-year-old male from Newark and Christopher Hannah, 19, of Newark.
Also arrested was Asia Knight, 20, of Newark, to whom the Honda Accord was registered. Inside the car, police said they found the missing cell phone.
The handgun, however, was not recovered, police said.
Police charged the 16-year-old with two counts of robbery, possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and receiving stolen property.
Knight was charged with two counts of robbery and receiving stolen property.
Hannah was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit robbery and receiving stolen property.
As of Friday evening, the 16-year-old had been turned over to Newark authorities while the two adults were being held temporarily at Belleville Police headquarters to wait for bail to be set.
Belleville Schools Superintendent Helene Feldman said she arranged to send counselors to the Middle School to check on the well-being of the students who were involved in or who witnessed the shocking armed assault.
This close call comes just one week after a similar incident reported on northjersey.com in which two Newark residents, ages 19 and 17, were arrested after they allegedly stole an iPhone 5 from a Belleville High School 16-year-old at Parkside Drive and William St. at about 5 p.m. on May 9.
According to the online report, the student was jumped by the two young men who knocked him down and stole his $300 phone but were later tracked down, along with the stolen phone, by police. Both suspects were charged with robbery.
By an odd coincidence, just two days before the most recent incident, the Belleville Board of Education had voted to endorse the nationwide Safe Routes to School program, funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is designed to encourage kids to walk or bicycle to and from school safely as a way of stimulating more physical activity among children.