Hattie Gainer

thumbnail of Hollie West Statement on Hattie Gainer- Washington Post

Story on the shooting of Hattie Gainer by Washington Post reporter Hollie West. (Junius Williams Collection)

Mrs. Hattie Gainer had lived in the Hayes Homes project at 302 Hunterdon Street for over twenty years. Those in the neighborhood knew the 54-year-old woman, who suffered from terrible arthritis, to sit in the window of her second floor apartment and chat with friends on the street as they passed by. Mrs. Gainer’s daughter, Marie gainer, and three grandchildren lived above her on the third floor of the building.

Around 7:30 P.M. on Saturday, July 15th, Marie Gainer was standing on the sidewalk outside of the building at 302 Hunterdon when she noticed her mother looking out the window of her apartment. What would have been routine for any other day was made alarming by the presence of State Police and National Guardsmen firing into the Hayes Homes project from Hunterdon and Bergen Streets.  

The Eighth Essex County Grand Jury of 1967 stated in their presentment, “State Police and National Guardsmen…had responded to the area because of reported sniper fire…” Although “sniper fire” was widely reported by police and National Guardsmen, very little evidence was found to support the 258 reports of “sniper incidents” claimed by city and state police. Furthermore, reporting “sniper fire” was used as a justification for the indiscriminate shooting of innocent civilians, as in the cases of Hattie Gainer, Rebecca Brown, and Eloise Spellman, who were all killed in their Hayes Homes apartments within minutes of each other.

Beginning around 6:00 P.M. that evening, according to journalist Ron Porambo, “two columns of National Guardsmen and state troopers were directing mass fire at the Hayes projects at the corner of Springfield Avenue and Hunterdon Street, large caliber bullets splattering against the bricks, sparking and showering the area with splinters of metal and stone.”

‘I was outside on the sidewalk, I looked up and saw my mother looking out her second-floor window,’ Marie Gainer recalled. ‘They were shooting at the projects then and I went upstairs with my girl friend to my apartment on the third floor. ‘It looks like they’re getting ready to shoot up here,’ my girl friend said, and I ran downstairs to tell my mother and my kids to stay away from the windows. There was shooting by the time I got downstairs and my mother was laying in a puddle of blood and my kids were screaming. I kept yelling to her but she couldn’t hear me.’

Hattie Gainer was dead at the age of 54 after having been shot by National Guardsmen through the window of her apartment while her three grandchildren watched. As Mrs. Gainer lay dying on the floor, a group of state troopers entered her apartment searching for alleged “snipers.” “One of the Troopers asked me,” Marie Gainer recalled, “Who was shooting from here?’ I said to him, ‘No one.’ The Trooper then said to me, ‘Well, we just killed an innocent person.”

The Essex County Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment” of the State Police involved.

References:

Ronald Porambo, No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark

Witness Testimony of Marie Gainer before the Essex County Grand Jury

Notes of Washington Post Reporter Hollie West

Statement of Marie Gainer

Statement of Marie Gainer

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Statement given by Marie Gainer to Newark Legal Services Project about the fatal shooting of her mother. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers

Grand Jury Report on Death of Hattie Gainer

Grand Jury Report on Death of Hattie Gainer

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Grand Jury report describing the fatal shooting of Hattie Gainer by State Police and National Guardsmen. The Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

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Marie Gainer Deposition on Hattie Gainer

Marie Gainer Deposition on Hattie Gainer

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Deposition of 22-year-old Marie Gainer before the Essex County Grand Jury, in which she describes finding her mother, Hattie Gainer, shot after State Troopers began opening fire upon the Hayes Homes apartments buildings on July 15. — Credit: Newark Public Library