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Thursday, 16 June 2011

5 Murders in 6 Weeks Spark Outrage in Brentwood

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First 18-year-old Juan Rosario was shot dead in a driveway about a mile from home April 22. Twenty days later, Pablo Raphael Vasquez-Rosalas, 34, was found dead of head trauma less than a block from home. Twelve days after that, Andrew Jones, also 18, was fatally shot in the head in his backyard. Last Sunday, 29-year-old Rumaldo Bethancourt-Lopez, was beaten to death three blocks from home.

All four and the suspect charged with killing the last victim are from the 10-square-mile hamlet in the heart of Long Island: Brentwood. Together, along with a 98-year-old woman whose son allegedly smothered her to death in their home June 3, they make up five murdered here in six weeks—echoing a shocking month-long string of five slayings here and in neighboring Central Islip in early 2010.

“They’re killing these kids left and right,” Stanley Jones, a 46-year-old mechanic who recently buried his teenage son Andrew, said last Tuesday through tears before a crowd of more than 30 at a monthly community meeting at the Suffolk County police 3rd Precinct stationhouse. “We gotta do something about these gangs.”

And the schools haven’t even begun their summer break yet, but the community is doing something. The same thing they did last year: forming community watch groups; marching in the streets; repeatedly asking police what more they can do; holding emergency meetings at the schools; demanding politicians do more.

Police are also giving a repeat performance: flooding the neighborhoods with gang, gun, drug, K-9, bicycle and DWI units; resuming random traffic checkpoints; reminding the public to report suspicious activity; calling on the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force; offering crime-prevention tips; begging for cooperation from witnesses silenced by the threat of gang retaliation.

“We’ve really stepped up our special unit presence in the Bentwood-Central Islip area,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, adding the Community Oriented Police Enforcement (COPE)—proactive precinct patrol units—will be working overtime, especially on weekends. “Violence in unacceptable in any community,” he added.

It’s not déjà vu. Last year’s month-long spate of deadly gang violence (four out of five cases have seen arrests, three federally) followed the notoriously bloody summer and fall of 2009 in the two communities, where a dozen fatalities accounted for about a third of the 33 homicides in Suffolk that year. Suffolk police also orchestrated a similar crackdown in Huntington Station late last year after gang violence there got so bad it forced the closure of a local elementary school.

But now police say they will soon acquire some new tools in the war on gangs. The 3rd Precinct was assigned 13 of 66 new officers who graduated from the police academy last week. Installation plans are underway for the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system in Brentwood and four other communities. And the county is moving ironing out plans to enact a “Gang Watch List” barring known gang members from congregating in specific locations.

As for the latest five murders in Brentwood, investigators have yet to identify any gang involvement in four of them. In the fifth, the 69-year-old man accused of killing his elderly mother has pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he thought he was dying. Police said a suspect was apprehended in the murder of Bethancourt-Lopez before officers realized the victim died.

Dormer added that Homicide Squad detectives, who now also have their hands full with 10 bodies found in and around Gilgo Beach between December and April, are equipped to handle the caseload while simultaneously hunting a suspected serial killer targeting prostitutes.

But for those who have lost loved ones to the bloodshed in the streets of central Suffolk, any police crackdown will always come off as too little too late. Still, Jones’ grief did not fall on deaf ears.

“I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone,” one local civic leader and mother at the monthly community meeting told the grieving father. “We feel year pain.”


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