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Fear grips neighbors of girl shot in Hempstead home

Alex Cruz comments about the Friday, Oct. 16,

Alex Cruz comments about the Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, shooting of 12-year-old Dejah Joyner at her Hempstead Village home on Saturday in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Alex Cruz, 29, went to Home Depot on Saturday morning to buy boxes and packing tape so he could move his family out of their Hempstead home across the street from where 12-year-old Dejah Joyner was shot.

Dejah was in grave condition Saturday at Winthrop-University Hospital, police said.

Chronic violence in the neighborhood had already convinced Cruz to move, and he's under contract for a home in a safer neighborhood. He didn't say where he planned to go, but Dejah's shooting added urgency. He hoped to move himself, his wife and their three boys to a relative's home within the next two days.

"This is not where I want my kids to be around," Cruz said. "You feel like a prisoner in your own home. You don't want to go out. You don't know when the shooting's going to start. You feel like you're in Iraq."

"I don't want my family to be next," he said.

Residents of Dartmouth Street said the vicinity of the shooting has long been a hangout for young men who smoke marijuana, play dice, talk loud and sometimes intimidate passersby.

Lorena Reyes, 32, who lives across the street from the shooting scene, said her frightened daughter couldn't sleep Friday night.

"I'm scared to go to sleep, if the shootings are going to start at midnight and I don't know if I'll be alive or not," said 12-year-old Lorena Martinez, a friend of Dejah.

Hempstead police have said they've made strides to curb the violence and reduced crime to the lowest levels in two years. The village has recorded four homicides this year, compared with eight in 2014 and 12 in 2013. But residents of Dartmouth Street don't feel safe.

A mural on the street remembers 17-year-old Dante Quinones-Wright, who was fatally shot on the block two years ago. A large photo of Quinones-Wright lay on the ground Saturday in front of Dejah's house, its plastic covering shattered and the wooden post it was attached to broken.

Lloyd Middleton, 80, said when he moved to the block about 14 years ago, it was a quiet neighborhood. "At that time, you could walk the streets and feel good about it, even at night," he said.

Not anymore.

"We've been praying, praying for this neighborhood for the past four or five years," he said, motioning toward Antioch Baptist Church.

Aida Velasquez, 32, said in Spanish that she and her 1-month-old son and husband moved to an apartment two doors down from Dejah just a month ago despite the neighborhood's reputation for violence, because it was the only large unit they could afford.

But now, they're talking about moving. They don't want to raise their son amid such danger, she said.

"It's better just to get out of here," she said.


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