The calm of a residential neighborhood on the Belleville/Nutley border was shattered Halloween night, Oct. 31, by the grim specter of death.
This was no trick-or-treat prank gone wrong; it was gunfire that, authorities say, took a life.
A press release jointly issued by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Belleville Police Chief Mark Minichini said the ECPO’s Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force was “investigating a home invasion that resulted in a fatal shooting.”
Police sources said detectives from both the BPD and the Nutley Police Department were assisting the ECPO with the investigation since the crime overlapped both jurisdictions.
The ECPO identified the dead man as Michael Ridley, 42, of Orange.
A Nov. 3 release from the ECPO said that, “shortly before 10 p.m. Ridley entered a home on BertonPlace. Ridley, who was armed, shot the resident. A struggle ensued and the resident gained control of the weapon and fatally shot Ridley.”
The 32-year-old resident “sustained non-life threatening injuries. He was treated and released from the hospital, “ the release stated. “Ridley, who fled the home and collapsed in Nutley, was pronounced dead at the scene.”
ECPO spokeswoman Kathy Carter said she couldn’t provide any additional details on the case, but she did say that the resident has not been charged in connection with the fatal shooting. Carter declined to explain the circumstances behind the reported home invasion nor would she say whether a weapon was recovered from the shooting scene.
A law enforcement official familiar with the case said the initial crime – the apparent home invasion – originated in Belleville on Berton – one block long – and ended up with both the dead man and the victim ending up in Nutley, near the intersection of Berton and King St.
One neighborhood resident who lives in an apartment above half a block down from that intersection spoke to The Observer last week about his experience that evening.
Justin Bell, 22, who works as a transporter at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, said he was settling in at home, watching TV, at around 9:30 p.m., “when I hear pop, pop, pop, about 10 times, and one last one.”
At first, he thought it might be firecrackers but then he nixed that idea because the sound “was so loud and clear” – more like gunshots.
So he went outside to investigate “and in about 10 minutes, there were about 10 cop cars all over” and then his eyes were drawn to the sight of “a guy on the ground dressed in black – flat out lying there under the street sign – he wasn’t moving at all.”
Police officers, meanwhile, “told everyone to go back inside,” which he said he did. They remained on the scene until around 2:15 a.m., he said.
The only visible reminder of police presence as of last Wednesday, Nov. 1, was a shred of partially ripped yellow tape dangling from the door of the corner residence at Berton and King.
In the 3+ years Bell has lived in the neighborhood, this was the first violent incident he can recall. “This is a quiet place,” he said. “That’s why we think [the home invasion] was targeted. Maybe somebody who owed someone money. Because there’s no street element here.”
Was he now frightened by this sudden intrusion of violence?
“For me, not really. But for my daughter, a little bit,” said Bell. His daughter is just a year and a half old.
When The Observer visited the area Wednesday afternoon, things seemed relatively normal as people went about their business, including an Italian bakery off Union Ave., just a short distance from the shooting site where, according to one staffer, the baking of bread will continue, unabated.
Meanwhile, the ECPO said, its investigation “is active and ongoing” and “anyone with information is asked to contact the office’s Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force tips line at 877-TIPS-4EC or 877-847-7432.