In paid speeches and high-profile public appearances, Newark mayor and New Jersey senatorial candidate Cory Booker has often invoked the name of Wazn Miller, the 19-year-old gunned down between a set of housing projects in Newark nine years ago.
I got interested in the 2004 case after reporting on “T-Bone,” the Newark drug pusher and alleged Booker friend whom the mayor often mentioned on the stump; but Booker had told Rutgers University professor Clement Price that T-Bone was, in reality, a composite character. It wasn’t the bare outlines of Booker’s account of the shooting’s aftermath that piqued my curiosity — that Booker was nearby when it happened and helped on the scene — but the cinematic details. Booker has told several audiences that Miller fell into his arms after being shot and bled to death as they waited for an ambulance to arrive on the scene.
It is worth quoting Booker at length. Here he is speaking at Yale in 2007:
It was during this time that I felt I probably reached one of the lowest points of my life, the nadir, when I was growing frustrated, when I was having a tough time holding on to that which has sustained our nation, our ideal for ourselves and the love which I’ve talked about. I was walking around, it was actually the week of my birthday, and I was walking around my neighborhood and gunshots rang out and I turned around towards the gunfire. It was echoing like cannon fire between a set of projects, and a whole bunch of children were running down a hill, and I sprinted through the kids towards the gunfire that seemed to be still ringing in my ears, and I got there. There was another young man who was stumbling backwards off some steps, and he fell into my arms, and I looked over his shoulder and his chest was filling up with this red blood. And I looked down and sort of held him, tried to hold the blood into his chest to stop it, he’s sort of coughing and gagging, and foamy red blood just started pouring out of his mouth. I’m screaming at people to please call an ambulance, please call an ambulance. I also screamed to somebody to please tell me who he was, what was his name. I sat there in probably one of the more uncomfortable moments of my life just whispering in Wazn’s ears — his name was Wazn Miller — whispering in his ears, saying, ‘Stay with me, stay with me,’ not knowing anything, what to do, just holding my hands in this boy’s bloody chest. It seemed like a whirlwind was going on around me, so much was flashing through my mind as I sat there just trying to hold this child as his breathing stopped, as I reached into his mouth not knowing what I was reaching for, trying to clear the foamy blood out of his mouth, clear the foamy blood out of his mouth, hoping that he would just start breathing again, just start breathing again. And, um, the ambulance finally came, pushed me out of the way, ripped open his shirt where I now saw three gunshot wounds in his front, one in his side, and he was dead. I just stood there as cops asked me questions. I tried to articulate what I had witnessed to them.
Hoping to verify Booker’s story, National Review Online requested the police report pertaining to the murder of Wazn Miller. After repeated delays, we sued Cory Booker and the city of Newark on Tuesday. I received a copy of both the incident report and the “continuation” police report on Thursday, although mysteriously the liberal outlet ThinkProgress received them first. Missing is the preliminary investigation report filed by the detectives who responded to the scene. We have requested this from the city, but Newark officials informed us they are “under no further obligation” to provide the documents. The report we received picks up the following day.
The reports in our possession confirm that Booker, who at the time did not hold public office but was a former city councilman and high-profile Newark resident, responded to the scene of the crime and admirably rendered aid to the victim. This has also been confirmed by the chief of investigators for the Essex County prosecutor’s office, Anthony Ambrose, a former director of the Newark Police Department. But the report contradicts Booker’s most dramatic claims about the incident, which have added emotional punch to the story in his retellings: that Miller fell back into his arms and that the mayor held him until he died.