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INTERACTIVE – Clam Diggers and Mussel Suckers

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City Island: A Coastal Community in the Bronx

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Families in mourning for slain teenagers

By Dunia Kamal and Delphine Reuter

Gladys Wright was lying in her bed on Sunday morning and could not fall asleep because she was waiting for her great-granddaughter, Quanisha, 16, to come home. Instead she got a phone call from Quanisha’s friend who told her that she had been shot at a birthday party in an apartment on Weeks Avenue, four blocks away from her apartment.

“I’m always praying. When you’re out there on the street, you never know if you’re gonna make it back home,” Wright, 86, said on Monday as she ate deli sandwiches for lunch with Quanisha’s brothers, Hassan, 13 and Trayquan, 14. Next to her sat Quanisha’s empty chair as a subtle painful sign of her loss.

Gladys Wright, 86, the great-grandmother of Quanisha Wright who was killed on Sunday morning at a birthday party sits in her apartment in mourning on Monday. (Delphine Reuter/ The Bronx Ink)

Gladys Wright, 86, the great-grandmother of Quanisha Wright who was killed on Sunday morning at a birthday party sits in her apartment in mourning on Monday. (Delphine Reuter/ The Bronx Ink)

Quanisha who had just celebrated her 16th birthday on Friday joined her friend Marvin Wiggins, 15, Saturday evening to celebrate his godson’s first birthday. They stayed after the party ended around 9 p.m. to help clean up then started an after-party with their friends.

“They wanted to have a little time” for themselves, said Eva Reed, the baby’s grandmother, who lives in the building where the party took place.

Around 1:15 a.m., said people who were present, two drunken men arrived at the party and opened fire. They were allegedly upset about a disagreement that took place earlier in the evening and were seeking revenge. Wiggins was shot when he threw himself between the shooters and Doreen Eleazer, Reed’s neighbor.

As panicked party-goers fled the scene, Reed said, Quanisha was shot in the stomach and ran toward the backdoor where she crouched down next to her friend Shonta Crosby. Both men ran out.

According to police,two men, Dexter “Lil Dex” Green, 20, and Robert “Jacob” Mitchell, 24, were arrested Monday and charged with murder in the shootings.

“They took something precious from me. She was my treasure,” Wright, who was Quanisha’s guardian, said of the shooters. “I want them to be punished.”

Monday morning, Hassan Wright, was sitting on his sister’s bed, reading the news of her death in the paper. He was at his aunt’s house when his sister was shot. He described her as “unique, smart and beautiful,” and said that he misses her.

(Dunia Kamal/The Bronx Ink)

Hassan Wright, 13, lays on his sister, Quanisha's bed the day after she was killed during a birthday party. (Dunia Kamal/The Bronx Ink)

Quanisha loved dancing and planned on improving her step-dancing skills with friends over next summer. “She was always there for everybody,” said Wright’s friend, Delores Shazeia Pinkston, 16.

Pinkston also knew Marvin Wiggins. She left a potato chip bag for him by the candle memorial set up at his building’s entrance. Friends and family hung a white T-shirt in the building’s entrance, on which they wrote condolences. Marvin and Quanisha went to the same school from sixth to eight grade, said Marvin’s mother, Andrea Wiggins.

On Monday afternoon, Wiggins’ apartment was filled with family and friends in mourning. They watched the news on television hoping they could learn more about the crime.

“Marvin was a loving child. He didn’t want anybody being hurt and now he’s gone,” she said before shouting and wailing in anguish.

When Andrea called the police, to ask about the suspects, she was pleased to hear that an arrest was made. The memory of her son dying in her husband’s arms makes her very angry at the neighborhood’s rampant crime.

“All I want is to stop violence and get guns off the streets,” she said.

(Dunia Kamal/ The Bronx Ink)

Delores Shazeia Pinkston, 16, a friend of Marvin Wiggins who was shot and killed on Sunday morning writes on a memorial in the hallway of his apartment building. (Delphine Reuter/ The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Year 87 of a Bronx Ritual

By Alec Johnson

At dawn the only person outside Yankee Stadium besides the street sweepers was one Chris McCably who waited for the ticket windows to open. He was from, of all places, Boston.

Freddy Schuman, 85, greets Claudio Beltral, 64, outside the Yankee's home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/The Bronx Ink)

Freddy Schuman, 85, greets Claudio Beltran, 64, outside the Yankee's home opener against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/The Bronx Ink)

McCably, who co-owns a towing company, had left his home to catch a New York-bound bus at 1 a.m. By 5:20 he was in the city, and soon afterwards had planted himself on a bench between Gates Four and Six.

“I’m a Red Sox fan,” he said, “and I just wanted to experience an opening day and see them get the rings.”

So began the ritual that has taken place every spring since 1923: It was opening day for baseball in the Bronx.

By 7 a.m., McCably stopped chortling about his employees hard at work back in Boston to take note of the fact that he was still the only man on line. “I cannot believe it is this quiet,” he said, before adding the requisite Red Sox fan’s dig. ”In Boston a line would be wrapped around the building for tickets. I’m going to break down and buy a Yankees hat, just as a remembrance. But I won’t put it on my head.”

Soon, a teenage boy walked past and said he usually sells candy inside but because he didn’t have to work today he was hoping to get a ticket and actually watch the game without having to hawk snacks.

By 8 a.m. the Yankee Stadium support staff, numbering more than 2,000, began to assemble on the River Avenue side of the stadium. A line stretched the entire length of the building and cooks, cleaners and merchandise sales people shivered on the gray morning as they waited to go through metal detectors on their way to work. The delay, one said, was a result of everyone being issued new identification cards for the new season.

The Number 4 train rumbled overhead and the back-up beepers of a crew of forklifts echoed across the empty plaza. One deposited boxes packed with t-shirts, baseballs, pennants, pens, refrigerator magnets at a white tent near Gate Six.

The Yankee’s manager, Joe Girardi, zipped into the players’ entrance at 8:25. A few moments later the street sweepers made their last pass. A black Bentley Continental GT with smoked windows and black rims rolled in a few moments later. Joba Chaimberlain rolled down the window and gave a fan a fist bump.

Nearby, Tony Dipitero, who looked as if he had been attending Yankee games since the days of Babe Ruth and who keeps score of every  game in a 99-cent spiral notebook chatted with a friend. Dipitero comes to about 60 games a year and usually gets tickets from cops or other people in the neighborhood who recognize him.

“I’ve got my book and my radio,” he said. “If I don’t get tickets maybe I’ll go sit in the bar and listen to the game.”

Derek Jeter arrived at 8:40 and the line of fans and stadium employees was four hundred deep. Jeter drove a shiny black Ford SUV He slowed down long enough to tip a Starbucks coffee cup towards those on line. From behind the tinted glass, it appeared to be a Venti.

“That’s got to be a record for him,” said Dipitero. “Write that down. He’s early today.”

Then, he told his friend, “There’s a guy from Boston waiting for tickets over there. He might get one.”

Over the next half-hour the remaining players arrived in sports cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks with mud flaps. Some drove themselves; some had drivers and others were dropped off by their wives or girlfriends.

Meanwhile, Paulette Williams was waiting to start work on her first day as a cashier. She is training to be a drug counselor and took the stadium job to make some extra money. “This is exciting,” she said. “I love the Yankees.”

Nearby stood Ray Basques, who had traveled from Minnesota for the opener. He is 60 and has been a Yankee fan since he was 10. “Life begins when the season starts,” he said. He held up a disposable camera. “I’m trying to get some pictures of the players.”

Around the corner at the ticket window things were still quiet. It was 9:30 and four men who’d been waiting on line had their tickets. They were not entirely pleased. “I was planning on paying $50,” said John Bruno of New Paltz who has been to some 20 opening days. “But $100, that’s ok. I’m in there.”

By 10 a.m. the smell of lighter fluid permeated the air around a parking garage on River Avenue. Tailgating fans had arrived and were spread thin across the upper level. Some barbecued. A father and son played Wiffle Ball. A group of girls played beer pong on the back of a BMW. A man from New Jersey admitted he was playing hookie from work and wouldn’t give his name.

Patrons filled the Dugout on River Ave by 11:00 a.m.

Patrons filled the Dugout on River Avenue by 11:00 a.m. (Michael Ratliff / Bronx Ink)

Meanwhile the crowd was building on the stadium plaza in anticipation for the 11 a.m. gate opening. Swarms of men, women and children, many dressed for a warmer day, mingled and munched on street food as they waited.

Claudio Beltran, 64, wearing a ten-gallon blue straw hat posed for pictures with fans alongside the famed Freddy Schuman, 85, better known by his nickname, Freddy Sez, Freddy held onto his trademark shamrock-painted frying pan as a pack of people took their turns hitting it with a metal spoon for good luck.

At last the gates opened, six hours after Chris McCably had arrived. Fans in blue hats swarmed inside, moving like a school of tightly-packed sardines.

Tony Dipitero was nowhere to be found. He was last seen chatting up a police officer. “Hey Charlie, what’s up?” he had said Dipitero, adding “That’s the cop that hooks me up with tickets.”

(Slide show: Michael Ratliff and Alec Johnson for Bronx Ink)

(Homepage Photo: Michael Ratliff / Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia, Sports1 Comment

A crying woman, shots and an officer down

By Alec Johnson

Early Monday afternoon Yesenia Rodriguez ran down the stairs from the second floor in the Morrisania Air Rights apartment complex at 3073 Park Ave. in the South Bronx.  She was crying. The man upstairs, she said in Spanish, had thrown her to the ground and threatened to kill her.

PO Robert Salerno

Police Officer Robert Salerno (NYPD)

She found neighbor, Jimmy Molina, 54, reading a newspaper in the lobby. She told him that Santiago Urena, the son of an elderly woman she cared for, was making repeated sexual advances towards her and she was fed up. When she threatened to call the police he pulled out a gun and yelled, “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you.”

She and Molina called 911 and as they waited she told him the story.  A few minutes later, about 12:30 p.m. four police officers from the 44th precinct entered the lobby.

“They asked where the guy with the gun was,” Molina said. He interpreted for the officers as Rodriguez told them Urena was on the second floor. Urena’s brother, Demetrio, 69, led them upstairs. Two cops, Molina said, ran up the stairs to apartment 2G and the other two took the elevator.

Less than a minute later Molina heard gunshots. Santiago Urena, 57, opened fire as officers approached a bedroom, police later said. Three .38 caliber bullets fired by Urena struck Police Officer Robert Salerno, 25. Two entered his unprotected lower abdomen and a third lodged in the bulletproof vest that covered his chest. Salerno returned fire, emptying his 16 round magazine. The three other officers shot a total of five times.

Molina was outside the building when about, he said, “two minutes later four cops brought him out carrying him.” Two held his legs and two held his hands — “running to the ambulance.”

Gun Recovered

This .38 caliber revolver was recovered by police from the crime scene. (NYPD)

Salerno, the first police officer shot in the line of duty this year, was taken to Lincoln Hospital where surgeons removed the bullets. Urena was not so lucky. Police who returned to the apartment after taking Salerno to the ambulance found Urena dead of what appeared to be a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. On Tuesday the medical examiner determined that police rounds killed Urena.

Urena’s 91-year-old mother was in another room of the apartment during the shooting and was later carried out of the building.

Police cordoned off the block and neighbors milled around the street in the afternoon rain. They were shocked by the shootout. Nelson Figuerola who lives on the 20th floor of the 23-floor building pointed across 158th street and said he would have expected gunplay over there, but not in his building.

“That building they call Vietnam,” he said. “This one is a lot better.”

Figuerola has lived in 2073 Park Ave. since 1982 and remembered Urena as a quiet man that used to work at the airport. “He cleaned airplanes,” he said. “Nobody expected this.”

Marie Garcia, 23, lives on the 16th floor and was awakened by sirens as dozens of police swarmed the area minutes after the shooting. She looked out her window and saw them running into the building. “They looked like sardines,” she said. “They were all trying to fit in the front door at once.”

The crowd of more than 100 that formed shortly after the shooting dispersed as heavier rain fell in the late afternoon. A handful returned after dark to watch the medical examiners wheel Urena’s body out on a stretcher.

A resident of 3073 Park Ave. in the Bronx reacts to questions by the media, Monday, after a police officer was shot in her building.

A resident of 3073 Park Ave. in the Bronx reacts to questions by the media, Monday, after a police officer was shot in her building. (Alec Johnson/The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Mom, Friends Grieve for Hit and Run Victim

Reported and written by Sarah Butrymowicz and Alec Johnson

The day after a 17-year-old was killed by joyriding teens who crashed a stolen car, the police line tape lay limply across the sidewalk and the accident scene was void of life. A destroyed bumper, headlight and side view mirror were strewn among a smattering of broken glass and plastic. Meanwhile, six blocks away, at the Rosedale Avenue house where Keon Nedd lived with his mother and four siblings, his family and friends sat around in mismatched chairs talking quietly, still describing him in the present tense.

Family and friends of Keon Nedd, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident early Monday morning gathered at his mothers home Tuesday where they created a memorial in his honor. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

Family and friends of Keon Nedd, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident early Monday morning gathered at his mother's home Tuesday where they created a memorial in his honor. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

A row of candles, with messages to Keon scrawled on the glass holders sits in front of the metal fence in front of his home. Behind them stand empty alcohol bottles, transformed into vases for blue and pink carnations and a single dying yellow rose.

More candles are set up in a cardboard box turned on its side. The box is now an integral part of the memorial though, covered in messages like “Your gone but nevah forgotten.” A sharpie lies on top, inviting others to contribute.

Keon, a tenth grader at Columbus High School was on his way home from a party early Monday morning, when a car crossing Seward Avenue on White Plains Road lost control and flipped on to the sidewalk, killing him. The car had been stolen from its owner earlier that day, and the driver and passengers fled the scene after the accident, his family said. Police would not provide additional details.

His grandmother, Carol Harris George, last saw Keon three days ago, when she dropped by his house to give him some money. She raised Keon until he was seven, and still carries his nine-year-old photo in her wallet. “I still can’t catch myself,” she said. “I haven’t eaten since the accident.”


Carol Harris George, Keon Nedd's grandmother, has kept this photo of nine year old Nedd in her wallet for years. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

George is trying to decide where to hold the funeral; she’s worried her church isn’t large enough. “That church is not going to fit all of his friends,” she said.

Many of these friends gathered in the driveway and even more were upstairs. Keon, who loved Jamaican music, was the joker of the group, they said. “He was a clown who used to live next door,” Mariah Hueston said. “He was always happy no matter what and he loved to play fight.”

Keon’s cousin, Anthony Bryant, turned 15 today. But his birthday was barely on his mind; instead he mourned the loss of someone he considered a brother. They were together “24/7,” he said, playing pickup games of basketball, rapping, joking and just sitting around.

Before he moved back to the Bronx 3 years ago, Keon loved to mow grass and fix the lawnmower when it broke, at his home in Monticello, N.Y. He’d take apart just about anything from computers to TVs and would work on his stepfather’s car, his grandmother said. “He liked doing things with his hands.”

He wanted to be a mechanic or an engineer when he grew up and had already built his mother a computer. The oldest of five children, Keon was close to his siblings. “He picked them up from school and took them to the bus in the morning,” his mother, Skeeter Nedd, said.

Though none of his friends who gathered at the house had been with him the night of the accident, Destiny Hueston was one of the last people to speak to Keon before his death – They talked on the phone around 12:30 about meeting up this weekend.

“I can’t take it,” she said knowing that he was killed by teenagers who stole a car.

George and his mother both were appalled that the culprits had not turned themselves in. “Kids will be kids,” Skeeter said. “But you always have to know there is an action behind what you do.”

The scene of the crash where Keon Nedd, 17, was killed early Monday morning was still littered with debris from the accident on Tuesday afternoon.

The scene of the crash where Keon Nedd, 17, was killed early Monday morning was still littered with debris from the accident on Tuesday afternoon. (Alec Johnson/ The Bronx Ink)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime5 Comments

No Ice, so Kids Learn to Skate on Plastic

By Alec Johnson

Ice dancing. Ice Capades. Ice hockey. But plastic?

As the world is watching the Winter Olympics, there is only one opportunity for children to learn how to skate in the Bronx — on a 20-by-30-foot plastic skating surface that looks more like a giant cutting board than an ice rink — in the courtyard of the former Concourse Plaza Hotel, which is now a senior center, on 161st Street.


Pre-school aged students from the Highbridge Advisory Council Early Childhood Center gain their balance as they skate on a plastic rink that is made slippery with sugar water Monday. Photo by: Alec Johnson

Beginning in early February, the plastic ice rink, made from recycled soda bottles sprayed with sugar water to reduce friction, was laid down like a large jigsaw puzzle and surrounded by bails of hay. Every weekday since, children between the ages of 3 and 8, from a dozen local day care centers and schools, have come for hour-long lessons. The director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, Dr. Cary Goodman, estimates that as many as 1,500 children have skated this month.

But by the end of the week, the skating rink — the only one in the entire borough of the Bronx — will pack up its ice and skates for the season. The rink’s rental, which cost $5,500, will run out and World Ice Events, the company that built it, will take away the winter fun.

“When you don’t have a skating rink for a million and a half people, that sends a bad message,” said Dr. Goodman, whose district pledged $7,500 to finance the project to teach children how to skate.

“I would like to get it extended some way,” Goodman said. “We have demonstrated that there is a need and market for ice skating in the Bronx.”

Goodman is frustrated that the city parks department has not included a rink in the new park that will be built when the old Yankee Stadium is torn down, leaving the Bronx as the only borough without an ice skating rink.

“Everybody has acknowledged that the Bronx hasn’t had one up to this point — it’s an injustice,” he said. “There needs to be a facility in the Bronx.”

Goodman is planning to meet with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to discuss his concern and is encouraging people in the neighborhood to speak up and say they need an ice rink.

“Look at these 4-year-olds,” Goodman said. “They can get on skates and learn.” He added that they should have the same opportunities as others to dream of becoming Olympic skaters.

On Monday, 11 students from Mid Bronx Head Start had their third lesson. With skates tied tightly, they shuffled across the plastic ice playing red light green light, and racing from end to end landing on hay bails.

“We come here every week,” Marina Ross, one of their teachers, said on the day of their third lesson. “They picked it up really quickly.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern Bronx, Sports0 Comments

Pitchers, Catchers and a Neighborhood Awakening

Snow falls on the Bronx for the second time in two weeks, and the kickoff of the 2010 baseball season—and spring—feel as if they are months away. Metal security gates sprayed with graffiti are locked down on nearly an entire block of shops and bars on River Avenue, which peddle everything from beers to blankets to fans during the season.  The neighborhood is nearing the end of its winter hibernation that started after the Yankees won their 27th World Series in November.

A group of young men play football on a snow-covered field across East 161st Street from Yankee Stadium on Monday.

A group of young men play football on a snow-covered field across East 161st Street from Yankee Stadium on Monday. Photo by: Alec Johnson

So it was that on Monday with 1 day 23 hours and 8 minutes remaining before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, just two of those businesses were open. A T-shirt shop and a bowling ally. “The business is dead,” said Abdull Abdull, who has sold Yankee souvenirs from his shop on the corner of River Avenue and East 161th Street for 24 years.

With scalpers absent the only bartering was taking place in Abdull’s shop as he bargained with his wholesaler, who only gave his name as Sean, over the price of new merchandise.

“Why $17 for this wallet,” Abdull asked Sean as he tossed the leather wallet emboldened with a Yankees logo on the counter.

“It’s a brand new design,” responded Sean, before changing the subject and taking a Yankees vs. Red Sox checkerboard out of the black trash bag he used to carry his wares.

Meanwhile, down River Avenue at Ball Park Lanes, Henry Fernandez, known to everyone as “Yankee Henry,” was holding court on all things Yankee. Fernandez doesn’t bowl and doesn’t work at the bowling ally but still hangs out there just about every day, and has earned a reputation as a fount of Yankee trivia. “Winter,” he said, “will be over soon.”

High School students bowl at Ball Park Lanes on River Avenue, Monday. The management of the bowling ally is looking forward to the upcoming baseball season. Photo by: Alec Johnson

High School students bowl at Ball Park Lanes on River Avenue, Monday. "Once the Yankee season starts this will be a more popular place," said Jose Perez, pictured in the foreground. Photo by: Alec Johnson

“Hey, you aren’t wearing a Yankees shirt today,” said George Diamantis, a part owner of the alley. Fernandez tipped his hat to reveal two Yankees pins.

Ball Park Lanes was busy on Monday, filled mostly bowlers who were off from school for Presidents Day. Around the corner at Macombs Dam Park, another group of young men were playing touch football in the snow. But the game brought little joy for 18-year-old Rudy Guiterrez.

“It’s dreadful sometimes,” he said of the long winter gap between baseball seasons.

“It seems like a long wait, so you have to keep busy with things like this,” he said. “Playing football in the winter to fill the void.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Southern Bronx, Sports0 Comments

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