The NYPD mounted a massive "building-by-building" hunt Monday for the man who stabbed a boy to death, critically wounded a girl and may also have killed a college student, all over the weekend.
Police also released a sketch of the suspect and photos of the steak knife used to kill Prince Joshua Avitto, 6, of Brooklyn, and wound Mikayla Capers, 7, at the Boulevard Houses in East New York, a public housing complex where the children were on their way out for ice cream at 5:50 p.m. Sunday when they were attacked in an elevator.
"I feel anger," Police Commissioner William Bratton told reporters Monday. "This is a particularly heinous crime where two children were in an elevator with nowhere to escape."
Police announced a $12,000 reward and said the weapon used was an 8-inch Dura Edge knife that has not been manufactured since 2004 by Imperial Knife. Police said it was found outside the building.
Detectives believe the same man killed Tanya Copeland, 18, on Friday, because she was also stabbed and was found about three blocks from the housing complex. A Long Island University student, she was an aspiring nurse, a family spokesman said.
Monday morning, as a close-knit community feared for its safety, Prince Joshua's father walked to his son's school, the boy's backpack in hand.
"I just walked to his school like he was with me," Nicholas Avitto said. "I had to do it. He looked forward to going to school on Mondays and I had to take him."
Two NYPD captains have been put in charge of the investigation, and extra police officers are assigned to the area around Boulevard Houses, including the schools, police said.
Bratton said he empathized with residents who fear for themselves and their children's lives, and promised to track down the killer quickly: "All department resources are on this."
Police are looking for a heavyset man who wore a gray sweatshirt and appeared to be 6 feet tall and between 25 and 35 years old. He was seen at the apartment building, which does not have surveillance cameras in the lobby and outside, police said.
"A few recognized the man being in the neighborhood," said Robert Boyce, NYPD chief of detectives. "But they just saw him running off."
Police said they have spoken to Mikayla, now at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and her parents. Her mother, Sherina Capers, said the girl was awake and alert.
The girl was stabbed about 15 times, said community activist Tony Herbert. He said she and PJ were best friends.
The girl's friend, whose nickname was "PJ," was to turn 7 this month. Avitto, 56, said he would remember PJ's smile and "stubborn ways," a boy who loved basketball and pretending to be a superhero.
"I'm going to miss my beloved baby son," he said. "I'm trying to stay strong."
PJ's uncle, Scott Avitto, added that the boy loved math. PJ was the cousin of Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson, who tweeted, "They killed my lil superman. Only two more weeks until your 7 birthday. Tears forever . . . this can't be life."
The boy's mother, who did not give her name, was led from the six-story building by a group, shaking and crying.
"This shouldn't happen to nobody, Lord," she cried.
Copeland suffered dozens of stab wounds, said community activist Tony Herbert, who is acting as her family's spokesman.
He said a cabdriver found Copeland just before 10:30 Friday night on the sidewalk near a rail yard at Stanley Avenue and Linwood Street. She was pronounced dead at Brookdale Hospital, which two days later would see the children.
Police said Copeland was about 13 blocks from her East New York home.
Copeland attended Long Island University Brooklyn and was beloved by her family, Herbert said.
"They're extremely distraught," he said about her family. "This was a good kid. This wasn't one of those kids who was out there doing anything stupid."
There are no suspects in the case, police said.Anyone with information may contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-8477 and nypdcrimestoppers.com or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577.
With Alison Fox
and Maria Alvarez