Bell’s daughter remembers dad at annual vigil

Nicole Paultre-Bell and her daughter Jada mark the fifth anniversary of Sean Bell's death at a candlelit memorial on the street where he was killed. Photo by Christina Santucci
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She was 3 years old when her father was killed.

And every year since his death, Jada Bell has stayed home as her mother and grandparents held an overnight vigil at the spot where Sean Bell was shot.

This year, however, Jada, now 8, wanted to take part.

“I was really reluctant about bringing her, but she insisted on coming,” said Nicole Paultre-Bell, Jada’s mother and Sean Bell’s fiancee, as they huddled in front of a row of candles on Liverpool Street in South Jamaica early Friday morning.

“She does remember her father even though she was 3 years old when it happened. She still has good memories of him,” Jada’s grandmother, Valerie Bell, said.

Friday marked the fifth anniversary of Sean Bell’s death. In 2006, he was killed in a hail of bullets fired by five police officers as he left his bachelor party hours before he was to wed Paultre-Bell. Three of the officers were tried and acquitted in 2008 of criminal charges in the shooting, and two others were not charged.

“We are still keeping out heads high and moving forward,” said Paultre-Bell.

For Sean Bell’s mother, the annual memorial demonstrates the family’s desire to keep Sean Bell’s name alive.

“The hurting part is where he lost his life, but it’s just letting the people know that we did not forget him,” Valerie Bell said.

The family plans to continue to hold the vigil every year. At 4 a.m., a bell is rung 50 times to represent the number of shots fired and the time of the shooting. This year, there were about a dozen supporters gathered at the site at about 1 a.m.

“There are only a few of us out here today, but if there was only two, I would still be here. It’s about Sean,” Paultre-Bell said.

In the past five years, Paultre-Bell has sought to remember her fiancée by founding the organization When It’s Real It’s Forever, which runs an after-school program out of PS 42 in Far Rockaway as well as the Sean Bell Little League.

In May, Paultre-Bell stood beside Sean Bell’s parents — Valerie and William Bell — as they held a grand opening ceremony for the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center, which is less than 10 blocks from where their son was killed.

Valerie Bell said the center ran a free summer program, which included piano lessons, sewing techniques and dance instruction. Now, an after-school program, GED preparation and job-readiness training are in full swing.

“The organization itself has been such an asset to the community that has been in need for such a long time. The children are looking for things to do so they can stay out of trouble,” Paultre-Bell said. “We are empowering our kids.”

Paultre-Bell and the Bell family are now awaiting a decision by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly in the Police Department trial of two police officers involved — Detective Gescard Isnora and Officer Michael Carey.

One officer, Detective Paul Headley, has left the force and the other two, Detectives Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper, were negotiating their retirement with the NYPD, according to the Detectives Endowment Association.

“We are just hoping that Sean gets the honor that he deserves,” Paultre-Bell said.

Updated 2:27 pm, December 1, 2011
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