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.
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.”
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.