A 16-year-old boy was killed by an unknown gunman who appeared to be lying in wait for the teen before shooting him in the chest in Hempstead Village late Friday, according to police sources and witnesses.

The killing of Robert Brown of Westbury is the third this month in Hempstead. It comes just two days after Nassau County police -- who investigate homicides and certain gang cases in the village -- reassigned a highly decorated unit that does anti-gang work in the area. The sources said Brown's killing may be gang-related.

Brown, according to several people with him Friday night, was hanging out at the family home of a friend on Bennett Avenue. He stepped out to walk to a nearby bodega shortly after 11:45 p.m., friends said, and was shot moments later.

Brown clutched his chest and staggered back into the house, screaming "Oh! Oh! I can't breathe!" said Kayla Childress, 18, a friend of Brown's who saw him stumble inside.

"We lifted up his shirt and he had a hole in his chest," Childress said. "He was going in and out of consciousness. We just tried to keep his eyes open, keep him alive."

Another friend of Brown's, who did not want her name used because she feared retaliation from neighborhood gang members, said she believes at least one gunman was waiting outside the home Brown was visiting, "because they got him right after he stepped out."

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Brown was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m., police said.

"Whatever he was involved in, it wasn't anything he should be killed over," the female friend said.

Near the crime scene Saturday, detectives scoured the neighborhood in search of information and evidence. Several feet from the spot where Brown was shot, someone had scrawled an insult about a suspect in a different homicide that happened just blocks away in September.

Brown's shooting was the fourth homicide this year in Hempstead Village, which has a long history of gang violence. Parts of the village, along with neighborhoods in Roosevelt, Westbury, Uniondale and Freeport, make up an area known as "the corridor," in which a majority of Nassau's gang-related crimes take place.

Hempstead's last fatal shooting occurred May 5, when someone killed two New Cassel men as they sat in a car in front of a Belmont Parkway home.

One police source said that shooting is believed to be the result of a drug deal gone bad between an MS-13 gang member and Haitian Mafia gang members. No arrests have been made.

Friday's shooting comes at a sensitive time for county police. Last week, Nassau made a controversial decision to reassign roughly 45 plainclothes cops to regular patrol duty as a cost-saving measure. Among the transferred officers were 12 members of the department's Gang Abatement Program, responsible for scores of arrests, gun recoveries and drug busts in the corridor, sources said.

Police said the move will save about $4.4 million in overtime this year, and that undercover cops -- from the Bureau of Special Operations, for example -- would keep working in high-crime areas.

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Seven homicides have been recorded this year in Nassau, compared with 12 during the same period last year, police said. Homicides are also down in Hempstead, from seven to four. Hempstead has its own police force, which has an anti-gang unit.

Nassau spokesman Brian Nevin said the police department's gang unit also continues to operate in Hempstead Village.