Kingsbridge Heights and Marble Hill tend to keep the 50th Precinct busy, addressing everything from robberies to burglaries to car thefts. But they’re not exactly known as a hotbed for violent crime.
That wasn’t the case April 13, as the unlucky day lived up to its reputation delivering tragic news in both neighborhoods with a pair of homicides.
It all started at 8:45 that night with officers responding to shots fired at 5240 Broadway in the area around Marble Hill Houses across from the C-Town supermarket. That’s where they found two people shot — a 30-year-old with a wound to the head, and a 20-year-old with a wound to the left leg.
The 30-year-old, who police later identified as Keith Bailey of 5360 Broadway, was taken to Saint Barnabas Hospital on Third Avenue, where he succumbed to his injury two days later. The younger man was taken to Jacobi Hospital on Pelham Parkway South, where as of earlier this week, he’s still in stable condition.
Both hospitals have trauma units specially trained in handling gunshot wounds.
Later that evening, just before 11, police were called out again, this time to 2829 Sedgwick Ave. There they found a 28-year-old man with stab wounds to the thigh. He, too, was taken to Saint Barnabas, where he died that night.
He was identified as Ronnie Gardner of 570 W. 204th St.
These aren’t the first deaths police have investigated locally over the last several months. Last January, Kristina Morseman, 33, as was found dead at 3004 Heath Ave. There were no apparent signs of trauma, police said, and they’re not treating it as a homicide.
Police suspect Morseman may have died from a drug overdose, but added it’s too early in the investigation to draw any conclusions as the medical examiner’s office has yet to complete its report.
Although two homicides in a single weekend might sound alarming for a precinct that typically keeps such statistics in the single digits for the entire year, precinct commanding officer Terence O’Toole isn’t hitting the panic button just yet.
“It’s an aberration,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Was it the weather? Was it Friday the 13th? Who knows? We don’t have events like this all the time.”
And O’Toole certainly didn’t see it coming.
“I don’t think any preventive measure could’ve been taken for this,” he said.
In fact, more than six months have passed since the 50th saw its last shooting. That’s when Pedro Almonte-Sanchez, 39, was gunned down in front of his home at 85 Strong St., last September. Police have since arrested Zachary Brown, 19, charging him with second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon, police said.
There’s still very little word on what may have motivated last Friday’s shooting, but O’Toole suspects the alleged perpetrator and victims may have known each other, although that is yet to be verified.
Thanks to surveillance cameras near Marble Hill Houses, police caught a glimpse of a man they described as around 25 years old, 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. He was last seen wearing a dark blue hoodie and blue jeans.
In addition to looking at surveillance video, police will need to review body camera footage from officers who responded to a fight that broke out earlier that evening in that same area, O’Toole said.
“There was a dispute in the playground, and there was a lot of people involved,” O’Toole said. “People are giving us various stories, but we’re still investigating.”
Over the last several years, the number of murders in the 50th Precinct has hovered between two and four, O’Toole said, with just a single homicide in 2014 while there were eight in 2006. The last time homicides reached double digits was back in 1997, with 13, the first time it did that since hitting 10 in 1994.
“Usually murder is less than a half a percent of our crime,” O’Toole said, adding overall crime is down 20 percent from last year, including robberies by 43 percent and grand larceny by nearly a third.
Car thefts, meanwhile, have gone up slightly.
“We always have some little pocket of violence, and usually we can take care of it right away,” O’Toole said.
One way is through the 5-0’s new program involving neighborhood coordination officers, or NCOs. They are a key part of the New York Police Department’s community policing program aimed at fostering better communication and collaboration between communities and police in an effort to further reduce crime throughout the city.
NCOs were introduced last week, with two earning assignment to Marble Hill and Fort Independence houses.
“The NCOs are over there almost every day talking to people,” O’Toole said. “Maybe they’ll forge a relationship with somebody who’ll be able to shed some light on things for us.”
One person who’s lived in Marble Hill for a long time is Tony Edwards, president of the Marble Hill Tenants Association.
“The whole idea of the neighborhood activity becoming more violent is something that’s far-fetched,” Edwards said. “It’s happened before so this is not a first-time event. The only thing is that, as a resident, you just hope that it doesn’t escalate to further violence, further deaths, further shootings.”
While safety’s no doubt a concern for Edwards in light of the shooting, he’s also worried about how it could affect the reputation of the place where he grew up and still calls home.
“In the past, there are certain housing developments that had a negative rep,” Edwards said. “For example, in the Bronx, you had the Patterson Houses, or, in Brooklyn, out in East New York, the Pink Houses. In Manhattan you had developments such as the Wagner or St. Nicholas houses. They all had bad reputations of gunplay and people dying, or bodies being found in elevators or on the roofs, and that’s part of my youth. I just hope that Marble Hill does not fall into that mode.”
Yet with thousands of people living in and around the Marble Hill development, O’Toole says it’s nearly inevitable “there might be one or two bad apples.
“And we have to, hopefully, find out who the bad apples are, and in this case, bring them to justice, which I think will happen,” he said. “But the NCOs will be able to forge a relationship with the good people there — and maybe even the bad people, or bad person, or two.”