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New Haven funeral home helps out

Burying homicide victims is the kind of business McClam Funeral Home owners don’t want to see.

They know all too well how violence rav- ages bodies and families.

Yet, it is work they approach with pride, professionalism and an eye toward help- ing a community to heal.

Fraternal twins and McClam co-owners Darrell and Darnell McClam, 41, have seen far too many homicide victims since they got into the funeral business in 1989. At the time, the two were young black men who continuously saw the remains of other young black men who were gunned down.

The two estimated they have seen thou- sands of homicide victims’ bodies over the years. They started in New Haven at the Perkins Funeral Home then went to work in New York.

Darrell McClam said when he was young he wanted to be a hearse driver. He then learned that entailed driving a body, but it didn’t deter him.

The brothers went to Wilbur Cross High School and attended American Academy of McAllister Institute in New York City. Darnell finished at American and Darrell transferred to Briarwood College in South- ington, where he obtained a degree.

Darnell McClam battled with a learning disability that caused him to mix words and numbers. He had to take anatomy three times before passing.

He came back to Connecticut to work as a forensic technician for eight years at the office of the chief medical examiner in Farmington.McClam Funeral Home first

came to the city in 2001 and is now run by Darrell, Darnell and their father, Bishop Lethenial McClam. The two brothers have basically followed the same career path through funeral homes.Both got to see the aftermath of gun violence during its peak in the late 1980s and early ’90s in New York. Some days they would see four bul- let-riddled bodies a day, Darrell McClam said. Things have slowed down since then.

He estimated that his funeral home has taken care of about 160 out of the more than 210 homicides since it came to the city.

Times have changed since the late ’80s and early ’90s. Back then, a gang had no

problem dropping $10,000 or $15,000 on a funeral for a fallen member.

“It’s not that way now. Now, these families struggle to see the funeral bill paid,” Dar- rell McClam said. “It puts so much stress on families; I’ve seen so many families say, ‘How are we going to get this done?’”

That, of course, comes on top of the in- surmountable grief of losing a loved one at a young age.

“Sometimes I think some of our youths are blind to the fact,” he said. “They just see the end product, but they don’t go through the struggle to see (it).”Darrell Mc- Clam speaks from the experience of han- dling funeral after funeral for homicide vic- tims. He has seen families that have lost multiple sons to violence and sometimes it will only be six months or a year between funerals.“I’ve seen where families have lost three or four sons, all to violence.”

Gang life was far different in Lethenial McClam’s day in the 1950s. He and his mother moved from South Carolina to Phil- adelphia. He got involved in some street gangs until 1957, when the two moved to New Haven, because she “didn’t want to bury her son,” he said.

“We just beat each other up,” he said. “Somebody got cut now and then … but they got a little stomping.”He attributed the change from fistfights to guns to the shortage of fathers in the home. He said he got out of the gang life and into the church when he came to New Haven.Darnell Mc- Clam said he believes a lot of the violence happens because of shortsightedness. It’s often during the dark times that someone gets killed.

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