HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Three teenagers were in custody Saturday morning, on charges of beating a homeless man to his death in Hoboken, N.J.
As CBS 2's Janelle Burrell reported, Hudson County Acting Prosecutor Gaetano T. Gregory said two 13-year-olds and a 14-year-old were charged in the Sept. 10 death of Ralph Eric Santiago, 46.
Police believe the teens were playing a sick game.
Prosecutor: 3 Teens Charged In Beating Death Of Homeless Man In N.J.
"They took a substantial part our life away," said the victim's former wife, Tracy Squillini. "My heart -- a piece of my heart's gone."
On Saturday morning, a bouquet of flowers marked the exact spot where Santiago's head was found lodged between two posts on a wrought iron fence. Family and friends never saw the attack coming.
Santiago was followed by the three teens while walking on 3rd Street between Adams and Jefferson Streets in Hoboken on Sept. 10 when one of the juveniles threw a punch at Santiago's head in what detectives believe was a game of "knockout." Santiago then collapsed onto the fence, wedging his neck between two iron fence posts, where he died, the prosecutor said.
"He was just a loving person – cared about everybody; very spiritual," said a cousin of Santiago's who declined to provide his name. "And it just wasn't deserved."
All three of the teens are from Jersey City. Homicide detectives believe they traveled on the Light Rail from Jersey City to Hoboken. Two of the juveniles surrendered to homicide detectives on Thursday, and one of them surrendered Friday, the prosecutor said.
Frank Colon has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, and told WCBS 880's Jim Smith he could not believe what happened.
"Tragic, and it makes me very afraid around our culture," he said.
Colon said the teens' parents share in some accountability.
"It's hard for me to blame the kids, as it is to want to understand what the parents are doing," he said.
Santiago's family said the father of one was a onetime gymnast and artist, but was disabled after being attacked 27 years ago in the Bronx.
Squillini told the Jersey Journal Santiago was attacked from behind while walking with friends in a public housing complex in the Bronx. His head was repeatedly pounded into the sidewalk, leaving him in a coma for a month, according to Squillini.
The beating caused him severe brain damage and he was never the same again, family members said.
Santiago had been evicted from his apartment last year.
The arrests brought Santiago's heartbroken family one step closer to justice.
"Until there's a conviction, I'm not going to feel that closure," Squillini said.
All three teenage suspects have been charged with murder and have been remanded to the Hudson County Youth Detention Center, the prosecutor said.
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