Detectives probing a triple homicide in Wyandanch face a potentially daunting challenge, experts say: the social prohibition on "snitching" that pervades Long Island's gang-plagued neighborhoods.
In dozens of gang-related slayings over the past three decades, Suffolk and Nassau homicide investigators have urged residents to help them imprison killers. Provide information to authorities, they argue, and dangerous criminals will be taken off the streets.
Many residents, however, say such cooperation is fraught with personal risks because of the "snitches get stitches" rule. By giving police details about gang crimes, they say, a witness or informant may become a target.
"There's a lot of fear here, because people know these gang members are right there on the corner, 24/7," Virginia Dawson-Taylor, president of a Wyandanch neighborhood watch group, said of intimidation by gangs. "People are afraid."
The risk of perceived police cooperation in Suffolk gang cases was highlighted by the killing of Milagro Canjura, 31, a pregnant woman shot to death outside her Bay Shore home last August. Sources said a possible motive for the shooting was that the MS-13 street gang thought she was an informant.
In Wednesday's killings, the possible involvement of a different gang, the Bloods, is under investigation, officials said. No arrests had been made by late Friday.
Police identified the victims as William Madrey, 25, of Wyandanch, who detectives said had previously indicated he was a member of the Bloods; Stephanie Almedina Rivera, 23, of Bay Shore; and Ciara Smith, 23, of Deer Park.
They were shot as they sat in an SUV just steps from the Davidson Street home where Madrey was staying. A fourth victim, whose identity police did not release, was taken to a hospital in stable condition.
Madrey's friends Friday vehemently denied he had gang ties. Dominic Peterson, with whom Madrey lived, said the allegation might stem from the name of the music label he and Madrey were part of, called "Rich Blood."
"He wasn't in a Blood gang," Peterson said. "Rich Blood don't necessarily mean the gang. It's just that we rich in the blood. We people out here on the street trying to make something out of nothing."
Inside Peterson's home, someone helped a young woman with a dressing on her left shoulder. Peterson said she was the sole survivor of Wednesday's shooting. "It went in and out," the unidentified woman said, apparently in reference to the bullet that struck her.
Regardless of whether Wednesday's killings are determined to be gang related, police say criminal organizations like the Bloods have caused an incalculable amount of bloodshed on Long Island.
Investigators last year said they had identified roughly 2,700 Bloods and their rival gang, the Crips, combined, on the Island over the past decade.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the triple homicide.
Anyone with information can call 800-220-TIPS.