Hundreds say farewell to W. Haven teen

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 10, 2008

WEST HAVEN — Hundreds of cars, firetrucks and police vehicles surrounded Our Lady of Victory Church Friday morning as the community laid to rest Ralph Joseph Russo Jr., the 14-year-old killed Monday while bicycling.

Two police motorcycles and a firetruck with lights flashing led the funeral procession as it pulled up to the front of the church. Ralph, who was a volunteer with the Allingtown Fire Department’s Junior Explorers program, hoped to become a firefighter one day.

At the request of the family, members of the media were not allowed inside the church.

The funeral Friday followed a wake Thursday evening that also drew hundreds of mourners, Mayor John M. Picard said.

Picard, who knew Ralph, said speakers at the funeral described the teen as fun-loving and caring. One story touched on his love for baseball: During one game, Ralph donned a pair of swimming goggles, instead of sunglasses, while playing outfield to get a laugh out of teammates and spectators.

“(He was) a great kid and his smile was absolutely incredible — he had a way about him, believe me,” Picard said. “I guess he was always pulling pranks and making people laugh and always helping people.”

He added that Our Lady of Victory Church was “standing room only” for the funeral. Burial was in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Ralph, a student at Bailey Middle School, died Monday after he collided with a Jeep while riding his bike on Captain Thomas Boulevard near the beach. Police have said the driver of the Jeep was going through the intersection with a green light and was not at fault.

Ralph is survived by his parents, Kelly Matthews and Ralph Russo Sr., as well as a younger brother, 9-year-old Salvatore.

Picard said he hopes the display of support this week can be a benefit to the family as well as to the community.

“There’s not a community around that comes together better than West Haven when there’s a tragedy and when someone needs help,” he said. “I think it shows how much Ralphie meant to the community, and how much the community cares, so I think it’s important for the community and the family to know how much support they have.”

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