Two men shot to death in a Central Islip neighborhood less than two days apart may have been random victims of a lethal gang initiation ritual, law enforcement sources said Wednesday.
The Sunday night shooting of Derrick Mayes, 21, and the Tuesday morning killing of Keenan Russell, also 21, matched the tactics, sources said, of a rash of shootings in the Central Islip area in 2009 and 2010 that were the work of MS-13 gang members. Some of those shootings targeted perceived rival gang members, but others claimed innocent victims.
Law enforcement sources said they have learned from informants that a new crop of MS-13 members had been "jumped in" and were expected to "draw blood" from those they perceived as rival gang members.
But other sources cautioned that despite the similarities, no one has been charged in either shooting and the investigation is still in its early stages.
Friends and relatives of Mayes, a warehouse worker, and Russell, an aspiring rapper, said they were not gang members.
"The victims are random," a source said about the most recent killings. "The shootings are rarely random."
Suffolk County police did not respond to requests for comment on the matter. According to the sources, the department's homicide and criminal intelligence units have reached out to federal authorities in the two cases.
Their deaths and the fatal shooting of Matthew Gilmore, 25, just blocks away and hours later rattled residents and spurred County Executive Steve Bellone to vow to "bring the killers to justice."
Police said Tuesday that Gilmore's shooting was not linked to the previous two.
Mayes was found lying dead in the street with a gunshot wound to his torso about 11:35 p.m. Sunday. Police said he had been walking on Wilson Boulevard when he was confronted and shot. Witnesses in the quiet neighborhood said they heard three loud shotgun blasts but no voices or screaming.
Mayes' mother, Sabrina Mayes, 39, said her son and his girlfriend of two years, Chanice Graham, 19, were expecting their first child in December.
She said her son was close to his brothers and sisters and others and avoided trouble.
"He was never in a gang. He was a normal kid," she said yesterday at her Central Islip home.
Russell was shot in the abdomen after a party as he gathered with several others outside a house on Acorn Avenue about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. A friend of Russell said he heard the gunshot, but did not see who opened fire. He turned and ran with others back into the house and only later realized his friend was missing.
Russell was a rapper whose music was being noticed in the industry.
Gilmore also aspired to be a rapper and wanted to open up his own car dealership despite brushes with the law over his driving record.
On Wednesday, the families of all three men grieved separately for them.
"I feel numb," said Matthew Gilmore's mother, Gloria Gilmore, 70, of Central Islip. "My body can't move. I have no money to bury him because I have no insurance. I don't know what to do."
Gilmore said she was notified of her son's death at 11:47 p.m. Tuesday. She said she has no idea if her son was involved in any trouble.
Police have no additional information on his case.
"It's very, very scary," said Malachi Smith, 21, a friend of Russell's, about the threat of being targeted by a gang. "I was nervous the whole ride here. In the daylight!"
Wednesday afternoon two Suffolk detectives visited Russell's father, Clemmie Russell. They chatted for about 10 minutes and left.
"It's rough," Clemmie Russell said afterward. "This is chaos right now. Too many kids getting killed for no good reason. I don't see a reason. It's nonsense."Five of Russell's childhood friends stopped by to pay their respects as well. They said Russell was all about playing basketball, seeing his girlfriend, working and making music.
"It's devastating," said Deshawn Carter, 21 of Central Islip. "He was one of my closest friends. You don't imagine losing your closest friends like this. It's hard to bear."
Deron Williams, 21 also of Central Islip, was with Russell at the party shortly before he was shot. They were standing in front of the home that was hosting the party when the shots rang out.
"I didn't see nothing," said Williams. "My back was turned to the street. All I heard was the gunshots. Everybody started running and when I looked behind me to see if he was there, he wasn't."
Williams said he called Russell on his cellphone to check on him and tell him he had run into the house. Russell picked up. "He told me, 'I'm good' and then my phone died."
Those were his last words to Williams. The last he saw of Russell was the red Cubs baseball cap Russell wore earlier, lying in the street.