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Cops step up anti-violence efforts in Huntington

Officers comb a playground for bullet shell casings

Officers comb a playground for bullet shell casings in at the Jack Abrams Intermediate School, near where a girl, 16, was shot in the leg early Sunday. Police say the shooting happened after a fight broke out during a large party on a Huntington Station street. (July 11, 2010) Photo Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk police will patrol overnight on Fridays and Saturdays near Jack Abrams School, and Huntington parents will rally against violence next Wednesday at Town Hall in the wake of the early-morning shooting of a 16-year-old girl in a campus parking lot.

Crime in Huntington Station has fed past debate about the future of Jack Abrams, which is scheduled to accept a class of sixth-graders in September from throughout the district. In April, the Huntington School Board voted to send fourth- and fifth-graders from Abrams to Woodhull Intermediate School.

Among the parents set to rally are some who argue the school should remain open and attention be paid to ending crime and blight in Huntington Station. Others want the school closed to get students out of harm's way.

"Everybody has their own comfort level and this year has really just taken its toll," said Meryl Otis Kessler, whose son is slated to attend Abrams this fall. "It's too close. We're talking gangs. We're talking murder. We're talking shootings."

Tuesday night, at a long-range Huntington school district planning committee meeting, more than 50 residents came to support calls to close Jack Abrams.

Some committee members said they wanted to close Jack Abrams immediately. But several others called for more options to be made available before deciding on what to do with the school in the long term.

The meeting adjourned without a vote, as the committee decided to wait for the school board to make a decision about this September.

"It's not just a Jack Abrams issue," said Amy Giles, 43, the mother of two children and wife of a committee member. "It's a Huntington Station issue. There are children living in the neighborhood that are going unprotected."

Giles said she'd support Abrams reopening this fall if police can be maintained at the school both during and after school hours.

Before Sunday's shooting - in which a high school student was struck in the leg following a graduation party nearby - recent violence in Huntington Station included a double shooting July 6, a fatal shooting July 5 and a stabbing May 15. Since at least September 2009, according to police, the area has been a priority for law enforcement.

In March, gunshots were fired less than two blocks from the school while the campus was packed with students. After that incident, the school board asked the district superintendent to consider moving students out.

Tuesday, neither school district Superintendent John Finello nor school board President Bill Dwyer returned calls.

School board member Kimberly Brown, who with Dwyer and two other board members voted to eliminate fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Jack Abrams, said she was "in the dark" about plans for the school.

Brown said she was skeptical about any promises by elected leaders that law enforcement will seriously address the crime problem because past pledges were not met.

"I'm sick to death of this," she said. "We have no leaders."

Robert Anthony Moore, chief of department for Suffolk police, said he met with school officials Tuesday and plans to start the weekend patrols immediately.

He said Huntington Station is unrivaled in the county when it comes to attention from law enforcement. He pointed to arrests of Latin Kings gang members in March and the recent arrest of an alleged gun trafficker.

Fighting crime is his primary concern, Moore said.

"We are going to continue with our enhanced enforcement, as of course we would, whether there was a school with young children there or not," he said. "It's a Huntington Station issue, not an Abrams School issue."

With Nomaan Merchant

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