"My heart just fell to the ground" - Cassell Brooks, father of 14-year-old boy.
Medical Examiner personnel and police investigators at the scene this morning where 14-year-old Kemar Bryan Brooks was gunned down last night in Haffen Park in the Bronx after playing tennis. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)
A crime scene investigator photographs shell casings found on the adjacent basketball courts.
By Geoffrey Croft
A 14-year-old boy was shot dead last night after playing tennis in Haffen Park in the Bronx in yet another murder in a park.
Police believe a small caliber bullet penetrated the boy's head according to numerous police sources. Kemar Bryan Brooks was pronounced dead at the scene just before 6 a.m. The medical examiner's office said the teen died of a gunshot wound to the brain, and the case was being ruled a homicide.
Mr. Brooks, a cabinetmaker, went out looking for him around the neighborhood Friday evening around 12:00am after this son failed to come home. The worried father said he did not initially go into the park.
“I was going to discipline him because he didn't come home," he said.
"I thought he was safe. He played tennis two, three, seven hours a day their," said Mr. Brooks. "He was always with adults playing. It was a good influence. I thought he was safe."
After his initial search turned up empty he returned home and stayed up worrying. He slept for a few hours and then went back outside and continued looking for him. This time he searched the park.
Mr. Brooks made a horrifying discovery just before 6:oo am this morning when he saw his youngest son lying on his side under some trees less than eight feet from the courts where he had been playing hours earlier. His tennis racket and bag were by his side. The body was found less than a hundred yards from their home.
"I went outside, I went by the park and there I found him lying dead," the father said.
“He was the best kid you could ask for."
The incident occurred inside the park not far from the Burke Avenue entrance between Bruner and Wickham Avenues.
Outside his Baychester home, the heartbroken father sat on a ledge and received a string of condolences. One of Kemar's older brothers held a photo of him next to his bowling trophies, tennis medals, and a school ID in a makeshift memorial created by the family.
"My brother. My brother," he said sobbing.
Kemar's older brother weeps while holding a photograph, next to bowling trophies, tennis medals and a school ID in a makeshift memorial created by the family outside the Brooks' home on Bruner Avenue around the corner from the senseless murder.
Shell casings were found on an adjacent basketball court. He may not have been the intended target according to a police source.
His father, neighbors and park goers spoke of his passion for tennis.
Witnesses said they saw the teen playing tennis until about 8 p.m., when the rain started and people ran for cover. Shorty thereafter the boy was gunned down.
Tony Cedeno has been playing on the park's six courts for years. He arrived this morning to play when he heard the shocking news.
"He's just a boy, just a boy," said Mr. Cedeno who saw him last night on the courts until it started to rain.
"He was a queit boy. I never even heard him curse. He was a natural player. He had a wicked high top spin.
I'm just so upset. So upset."
The office of the Medical Examiner removes the body from Haffen Park.
Area resident Marie Johnson, 70, said she heard three or four shots not long after.
"I know the difference between thunder and gun shots," she said, "It wasn't the storm."
The devastated family including Kemar's mother and four siblings moved from Jamaica two years ago.
"My heart just fell to the ground," Kemar's father Cassell Brooks, 50 said. "I knew it was him when I saw his shoes. His tennis bag was next to him.
He was on his way home. Why him," he asked.
Numerous investigators were seen canvassing the neighborhood going door-to-door looking for witnesses.
Anyone with information on the case should contact the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS, or text CRIMES and then enter TIP577, or visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.
The park's swimming pool was closed for the day due to the investigation.
The incident occurred inside the park near the entrance on Burke Avenue between Bruner and Wickham Avenues.
Park and Playground Violence
Violence in the city parks and playgrounds has exploded over the last few weeks resulting in multiple deaths and injuries from shootings and stabbings.
According to figures complied by NYC Park Advocates since July 1st alone 13 people have been shot, resulting 4 deaths and 9 injuries, two people were stabbed, one fatally.
On Wednesday, five people were wounded when a gunman opened fire at a basketball tournament at Rucker Park in Harlem. A few days earlier 4-year-old, Lloyd Morgan was killed in a playground by a stray bullet shot at a basketball game in the Bronx.
Park crime is up 24% since 2009 according to the latest figures complied by the city. This number however represents only a faction of crime occurring in parks because the Police and Parks Department refuse to comply with the 2005 law which requires them to track and report crime in parks.
Shootings are up 9.6 percent city-wide and overall crime is up 4.3 percent this year according to the latest NYPD statistics. The explosion of gun violence citywide has apparently not changed the mind of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to hire more cops. Since he's been in office the NYPD has lost close to 6,000 officers since it's peak in 2001- 2002.
According to the city's latest budget, the NYPD expects to have an average of 34,800 cops in the current fiscal year, which began July 1. At its peak, it had 40,700 officers.
In another 'Bloomberg moment," the Mayor said on his weekly Friday WOR radio show that increasing the number of police was not going to make a difference in lowering the murder rate.
"If you had more cops, would you get it down even more. I don’t think so.”
Critics also point out the ranks of the only uniformed police dedicated to city parks have been decimated.
At the time of young Kemar's murder not a single Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officer was available to patrol the Bronx's more than 7,000 acres of parkland due to dramatic staffing cuts. Critics charge that under Bloomberg, Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe has been methodically dismantling PEP. They have lost 42% of their officers since 2008 according to Benepe.
Several City Council members have told A Walk In The Park when they have asked the Parks Commissioner about restoring funding for PEP he discouraged it saying they weren't a priority and crime in parks was being overblown.
WABC - July 28, 2012 - By Tim Fleischer
WCBS News - July 27, 2012
The Wall Street Journal - By Sean Gardiner and Danny Gold
New York Times - July 27, 2012 - By Marc Santora and Daniel Krieger
New York Post - July 28, 2012 - By Natasha Velez, Rebecca Harshbarger and Jamie Schram
New York Daily News - By Henrick Karoliszyn, Joseph Kemp and Tracy Conner
Associated Press - July 28, 2012
NY1 - July 27, 2012 - By Dean Meminger
WNBC - By Shimon Prokupecz - July 27, 2012
My Fox - July 27, 2012
gothamist - July 27, 2012 - By John Del Signore
DNAinfo - July 27, 2012 - By Murray Weiss, and Chelsia Rose Marcius
New York Post - July 28, 2012 - By David Seifman
WCBS - July 19, 2012