Murders plague Coney

Murders plague Coney

A staggering spree of violence in the western end of Coney Island has sparked six murders in six weeks and has put the police and the community on edge.

The 60th Precinct, which is responsible for protecting residents of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, has also investigated eight shootings since the beginning of the year, said officials.

Last year at this time, only one murder was being investigated and two shootings had been reported. Three murders were investigated during all of 2008, officials said.

Probably the most grisly of the killings took place on the night of April 26, when a livery cab driver captured, killed and hacked up a young woman inside his West 19th Street apartment.

The spree of violence also includes the stabbing death of 25−year−old Jose Castillo, a West 20th Street resident slain outside of his home on April 18, and the fatal knifing of Marcus Ali, a 19−year−old resident on Brighton 7th Street, on April 13. He, too, was killed just a few steps from his home, according to investigators.

Another recent killing involved a shooting outside a party on Neptune Avenue and West 36th Street back on March 22 that took the life of an 18−year−old woman. Two men were wounded during the same shooting.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a rash of violence centered on the western edge of the precinct from West 24th Street and down Mermaid Avenue to West 37th Street,” said Deputy Inspector Robert Johnsen, adding that arrests have been made in the two most recent killings.

In both incidents, the victim knew the perpetrator, he said.

Of the other three murders, Johnsen said one is a known suspect who lives in the area and cops are out looking for him. The other two murders remain open, he said.

While many of the slayings occurred during fights or arguments, at least one may have been pre−meditated, police said.

The killing spree started on March 14 when Brighton Beach business owner Vladislav Tolstykh was beaten to death after leaving his car in a parking garage on Brighton 11th Street near Oceanview Avenue.

Police believe that the men who attacked the 34−year−old merchant did so because the victim usually had money on him when he made his way to his store.

The violence has not bled into any other criminal activity in the area. According to recently published NYPD statistics, overall felony crime in Coney Island and Brighton Beach has fallen by over 25 percent this year. Robberies have dropped by nearly 35 percent, statistics show.

Johnsen said he does not believe the escalation in violence is connected to drugs, since his officers haven’t seen an increase in narcotics activity.

Nor does he believe that the killings stem from gang activity.

“We do have gangs living in Coney Island and there are 244 members known to live in the area, but they haven’t been a problem,” said Johnsen, adding that these residents belong to a hodge−podge of 22 different groups.

It is possible that the violence could be connected to people who have recently been released from jail, Johnsen explained, adding that a similar spate of violence occurred in the command five years ago.

Nine shootings had been reported during those troubling weeks, but then it was quiet again for a few years.

Now it’s come back, he said.

Local residents, however, don’t want to suffer through another neighborhood resurgence of violence and are taking steps to turn things around.

Pam Harris, a Coney Island native and former Department of Corrections employee, recently held an anti−violence march through the streets of Coney Island.

She believes that the recent round of violence is being caused by “idle time and idle hands.”

“All of the centers around here are now closed,” Harris explained. “There are no bowling alleys or movie theaters. Other than basketball, they have nothing to do.”

“I feel like I should re−arm myself but I’m not going to do that,” Harris said when asked about the recent spate of violence. “Instead I’m going to re−arm myself with my pen and my voice. I’m just scared for those adults who could have a voice like myself, but aren’t doing so because they are living in fear.”

Harris, who is currently taking steps to bring an after−school media arts center to Coney Island, said that the community’s youth “are angry.”