The playgrounds at the Boulevard Houses in East New York were empty on Monday afternoon. The sun was out and the skies were clear, but kids kept close to their parents as they walked home from area schools.
Less than a day after a unidentified man stabbed two children — killing one of them — residents in and around 845 Schenck Ave. remain in shock and dismay at what seemed to be a random attack in what some described as a close-knit community.
And while residents out on the streets around the East New York project hesitated to say that the stabbing death of Prince Joshua Avitto, 6, could have been avoided, many said the city could have and can do more to make them feel safer — including cameras inside their buildings and better policing.
Nicole Peterson, 32, said she spent her entire life in the area. Pushing a stroller with her 1-year-old baby, she ran into a gaggle of friends across the street from where police said Avitto was killed on Sunday.
Peterson was on her way to pick up her daughter from George Gershwin Junior High School three blocks away from the houses. She said the 13 year old usually makes the trip to and from school on her own, but was apprehensive about walking alone so soon after the attack.
“She felt a little shaken up this morning,” she said. “All of the kinds were feeling some type of way, so some parents were walking them or let them stay home because they didn’t feel comfortable.”
Peterson wondered why there aren’t safer places for kids to go in the neighborhood and why there aren’t more cameras to make sure residents are safe — even more so now since the man behind the attack had not been captured by Monday evening.
Police described the suspect as a heavy-set black male wearing a gray sweatshirt. Investigators recovered a the knife at the scene and offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s arrest.
Many residents said they always see police cars near the houses mostly at daytime and officers on foot but that there were no officers around during Monday’s attack.
Robert Thomison, 69, said the neighborhood hadn’t seen anything like the stabbing killed Avitto and left 7-year-old Mikayla Capers in critical condition in the 12 years he’s lived in the area.
However, he too has seen a shortage of officers on the streets in the evenings, and said his building across the street from the scene of the crime had no operating security cameras.
“If there are cameras there, they’re going to think twice before they commit a crime,” Thomison said.
Some of the city’s 334 public housing developments, managed by the New York City Housing Authority, have security camera systems, but many do not. Most of the Boulevard Houses did not have cameras, and it was unclear if the cameras were in working order.
Tanaeia Armstrong, 37, walked the block around with her 3-year-old son J.J., whom she kept from straying too far from her. She wasn’t home during the attack — her father called and told her about it. She said all she could do at the time was hold J.J. tight.
J.J. often played with Avitto and Capers at the playground between the buildings, Armstrong said. Her oldest daughter went school with Sherina Capers, Mikayla’s mother.
Armstrong said she has some concerns about privacy within the buildings, but at least the elevators should be equipped with cameras to track who comes in and out of the houses, in which more than 3,100 New Yorkers live.
“If you’re going to do it for one project, you should do it for all,” Armstrong said. “Even if this project doesn’t have a high crime rate, it’d make us feel safer in a situation like this.
The City Council is expected to discuss the status of security cameras in public housing on Wednesday, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that the most immediate thing the city can commit to is deploying officers to the neighborhood.
“There are certainly some areas where I think cameras would be very beneficial,” de Blasio said, “but I think the number one thing we can do is add additional police presence. And we will.”
Councilwoman Inez Barron, who represents the district that contains Boulevard Houses, was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Police continue to ask that anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS or to submit tips online.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter@chestersoria