NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As a Brooklyn community mourned a 6-year-old boy who was stabbed to death inside an elevator, community leaders on Tuesday were demanding action on the installation of surveillance cameras.
Police have flooded the neighborhood in East New York after Sunday’s chilling attack inside the Boulevard Houses public housing development that killed Prince Joshua “P.J.” Avitto and left his friend, 7-year-old Mikayla Capers, fighting for her life.
The children had been playing outside around 6 p.m. under adult supervision when they went upstairs to get some ice cream from P.J.’s sixth-floor apartment.
That was when police said the suspect followed them into the elevator, told them to be quiet and then used a steak knife to stab each child multiple times.
“This is a particularly heinous crime,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “Two young children in an elevator with no place to escape, nothing at all, and some character gets on and just starts stabbing them? — (Residents) have every right to be concerned.”
Both children were stabbed in the torso, police said. They were taken to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center where P.J. was pronounced dead.
There were no surveillance cameras inside of the building where the attack happened. New York City Housing Authority officials said money has been allocated to get them installed.
“We want more cameras in our NYCHA developments,” said community activist the Rev. David Keith Brawley.
“If someone put graffiti in Times Square, you’d have hundreds of images of it,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said. “Yet, in an area where crime is high, there are no cameras.”
As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, $500,000 was earmarked for surveillance cameras at the Boulevard Houses and other NYCHA buildings back in July of last year, but it wasn’t until February that NYCHA met with tenants to hammer out a plan.
The proposal was approved on March 21 and submitted to the city’s budget office — which approved the cameras on Monday, one day after the children were stabbed.
NYCHA told CBS 2 the process is complex, but necessarily comprehensive.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had another phrase for it — “unacceptable bureaucracy. We didn’t address it quickly enough.”
As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, de Blasio ripped the housing authority for not spending the $27 million available on better security.
“They were sitting on the money for a variety of reasons and I think it was a bad strategic decision by NYCHA,” the mayor said. “By cutting a number of red tape steps in the process, they can get these in place this year.”
NYCHA said it is now fast-tracking the camera installation at 49 complexes. But, community activist Vincent Riggens said he worries a knee-jerk reaction to a horrible crime against two children may overshadow a larger issue.
“Crime is gonna migrate to where the cameras are not at,” he said.
Housing authority chair and CEO Shola Olatoye testified before the City Council’s housing committee Tuesday afternoon, where the agency faced tough criticism, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported.
“How much violence has to occur before we address issues,” said Councilman Ritchie Torres.
Meanwhile, P.J.’s father claims the suspect being sought by police may be a homeless man he’s seen in the building before.
Nicholas Avitto said a sketch of the suspect released Monday looks like a man he and his son sometimes passed and gave money to.
“I saw that sketch and I recognize that individual. I’ve seen him in our hallway,” he told CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell on Tuesday. “I saw that picture and I was devastated.”
“I’ve seen him many times before. I used to give him a dollar, a cigarette, whatever,” Avitto added.
The victims’ families have urged the suspect to turn himself in.
“We got to find this man,” said P.J.’s mother, Aricka McClinton. “My baby’s gone.”
“Please don’t hurt no more children. Please just come in, come in,” said P.J.’s grandmother, Anita Edgerton.
“He was full of life, vibrant, energy, curious, intelligent. He could’ve been the next Einstein as far as I’m concerned,” said P.J.’s father, Nicholas Avitto.
“Everybody loved P.J.,” said family friend Sophia Diaz. “He didn’t deserve to die like this. Ain’t nobody deserves to die like this.”
Mikayla was moved to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center where she was listed in critical condition, police said.
“I don’t know what monster would do something like this,” Mikayla’s great-grandmother Regenia Trevathan said. “This is senseless.”
The attack has left many children in the neighborhood on edge.
“Before this happened, I used to go places by myself,” one boy said. “But I can’t do that anymore.”
Police believe the same man may be behind the murder of 18-year-old Tanaya Copeland, who was stabbed to death just blocks away Friday night.
Investigators found an 8-inch kitchen knife with a black handle near the scene on Sunday, similar to one used in the attack Friday night.
“This individual who took my daughter’s life, stabbed an 18-year-old child over 30 times, a 7-year-old girl 15 times and a little boy,” said Copeland’s mother Rochelle Bruce. “Please, if you know anything, ya’ll gotta open your mouth.”
Police are examining grainy surveillance video from the scene of Copeland’s murder. They are also harvesting DNA samples from both murder weapons to see if there is a link, CBS 2’s Brown reported.
As the manhunt for the suspect continues, the community is rallying to show their support with friends and teachers of the slain boy visiting a makeshift memorial outside his home.
P.J.’s cousin is Chicago Bulls player Taj Gibson. He tweeted a message saying, “They killed my lil super man. #rippj only two more weeks until your 7 birthday. Tears forever.”
The little boy’s funeral will be held Friday at St. Paul Baptist Church.
Relatives and community leaders are hoping the suspect will surrender.
“If you wish to live another day, do yourself a favor, do yourself some justice and turn yourself in,” said Kirsten Foy with the National Action Network.
“We’re going to get this guy,” Bratton said.
“If his family or anyone knows who this person is, please bring him in,” said community activist Clara Woods.
“You’re going to be caught and believe me, God has no respect for anyone who does that to little babies,” Nicholas Avitto said.
In response to the stabbings, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is calling on the FBI to work with the NYPD to help catch the suspect.
“There is a psychopath who is on the loose and who could strike again at any moment,” Jeffries said. “We have a sketch right now of the suspect, but we are chasing a ghost. There is nothing else that exists beyond the sketch as far as we can tell, which is why we want all hands on deck.”
The suspect is described as a black man between 25 and 35 years old, approximately 6-feet-tall with a heavy build, police said. He was last seen wearing a grey shirt.
The reward for information leading to an arrest has climbed to $12,000.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS, visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.
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