Sense of normalcy returns to Central Islip after shootings

Clayton Street residents talk about life in Central Islip and the recent series of shootings on their street.  Videojournalist: J. Conrad Williams Jr. (June 6, 2013)

Nearly two weeks after three separate, fatal shootings in Central Islip, a tenor of normalcy has slowly begun to restore itself.

Residents in the neighborhood where the deaths occurred worked in their yards, walked home from school and played in nearby parks. Their prevailing message: This was an anomaly, and it could have happened anywhere.

"I don't feel any less safe," said Cindy Smith-Jordan, who lives on Clayton Street, several houses from where one of the shootings took place. "I know the area is really good -- you have your elements all over the world. So you've got to be careful and mindful."


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Derrick Mayes, 21, Keenan Russell, 21, and Matthew Gilmore, 25, died in three separate shootings over the span of two days. One man has been charged in Gilmore's death. Law enforcement sources said the killing of Gilmore is not connected to the shootings of Mayes and Russell, which sources suspect may have been committed by MS-13 gang members.

A few houses down from Smith-Jordan's, Boston University student Stephanie Hardy, 21, said it's upsetting when high-profile violence in Central Islip distracts from the good things that happen in the community where she was born and raised.

Hardy's brother Zachary, 17, said the shootings did not change his affection for the neighborhood.

"We have great neighbors, there are great people in the town," he said. "The shooting didn't change my overall perspective, because I know things like this have happened before. But it's not fun to have that happen."

Others are concerned about the area's future.

Virginia Garay, 31, said she's become fearful since the shootings, and that she and her children and niece no longer take evening walks around their neighborhood.

"We used to feel safe here," Garay said in Spanish, translated by her niece, Yaneira Rodriguez, 12. "Six years living here, and mostly nothing happened."

Many residents -- and especially parents -- are still in shock, said Nancy Manfredonia, executive director of the Central Islip Civic Council, a nonprofit community advocacy group. "To have three murders in three days was unbelievable," Manfredonia said. "This is just not what we think of as Central Islip, so people were very fearful."

But Manfredonia said the killings have returned focus to what's been a somewhat neglected issue in Central Islip: In the wake of the murders, two Suffolk County detectives will be returned to a federal gang task force, and there's been a renewed push to find funding for youth programs.

The civic council is also lobbying to consolidate all of Central Islip into Suffolk County's Third police precinct, since the northernmost part of the hamlet is served by the Fourth Precinct.

"The only good thing -- there really isn't any good thing because there are three young men dead," Manfredonia said, "but the only good thing is we're getting attention to the problem and something is happening."

A few miles away, Lucille Marie White spent Thursday afternoon in her garden. White lives alone. In the 50 years she's lived in Central Islip, the community has changed dramatically, she said. But she won't leave her house. White said even if she decided to move, "Something's going to happen. You can't run away from it. It follows you wherever you go."

But across the street, Davonte Mayes, 17, Derrick Mayes' younger brother, said that for the first time, he wants to move.

"My mom always told me she wanted to move and wanted to get out of Central Islip. But I always told her no, I wanted to stay, I wanted to graduate," Mayes said. "But now that this happened it's like I don't care anymore. I don't want to be here. Everywhere I walk, there's a memory."

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