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Shooting

Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted out of the 3rd Precinct on his way to arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon

A trial will begin Tuesday for a man accused of shooting an officer after fleeing a police stop in Huntington Station last winter.

Officer Mark Collins was seriously injured when he was shot in the neck and the hip on the night of March 11 during an alleged struggle with the suspect, 23-year-old Huntington Station resident Sheldon Leftenant, who has pleaded not guilty to attempted aggravated murder of a police officer, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and resisting arrest.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said earlier this year that Leftenant faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.

Collins was in plainclothes while working for the 2nd Precinct’s gang unit on the night of the shooting, and helped pull over a car in which Leftenant was a passenger, Spota said. When asked to get out of the car, the suspect fled and Collins gave chase until he cornered Leftenant, an alleged member of the “Tip Top Boyz” street gang, on Mercer Court.

“He had his police-issued Taser in hand,” Spota said. “He never drew his weapon.”

The DA said at the time that Collins, who was unaware the suspect had a gun, used his Taser on Leftenant twice, hitting him in his back.

Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted to his arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon
Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted to his arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon

“While it brought the defendant to the ground, unfortunately it did not completely immobilize him,” Spota said.

When Collins went to handcuff Leftenant in that Mercer Court driveway, there was struggle, he said. A gun fired four times in quick succession and Collins was shot in the hip and in the neck, close to his carotid artery.

“Collins knew right away he had been shot because he couldn’t feel anything on his right side and he couldn’t move at all his right arm or his right leg,” Spota said.

To protect himself, the injured officer dragged himself over to a stoop and took cover under his bulletproof vest, facing it toward the suspect.

Spota said Leftenant fled after the shooting and dropped the weapon in the backyard of a neighboring property before hiding about a quarter of a mile from the scene.

Canine unit officers arrived and found both the gun allegedly used to shoot Collins as well as Leftenant.

At the time of Leftenant’s arraignment, defense attorney Ian Fitzgerald said his client was sorry to be in this situation, but wouldn’t comment any further.

A handful of the suspect’s family members were in the audience at that court appearance. They would not comment on Leftenant’s case either, but they left the courtroom chanting, “Free Shel.”

This case was not the first time Leftenant’s name had been involved in a shooting. About seven months earlier, he was shot in the groin while standing with a group of people in front of his Tippin Drive home, when two vehicles drove by and someone fired a gun.

At that time, police said Leftenant was originally treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Huntington Hospital and later underwent surgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

Although Collins was seriously wounded in the shooting last March, he has since recovered and returned to work, the DA’s office said recently, calling the officer “a decorated 13-year veteran.”

The two other shots from the .38-caliber revolver were found inside the home on whose property the struggle took place, the DA said, but no one inside at the time was injured.

Opening statements in Leftenant’s trial were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Riverhead.

 

The cover of Chris Brady’s new children’s book. Photo from Brady

By Melissa Arnold

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Chris Brady, 33, of Rocky Point, was profoundly impacted by the events of that day and has spent the past three years developing “Twenty-­Six Angels,” a children’s book inspired by those who died. The book was published on Nov. 13, and Brady hopes it will inspire children and adults alike to spread peace in our world.

I recently sat down with Brady to learn more about the book and what he hopes for the future.

Tell me a bit about your background.  What got you interested in writing?
I’ve always had an artist’s spirit. Writing has always been my way of chronicling my life. I have a book of probably a hundred poems that have gotten me through so many experiences. But I always wanted to be an actor and singer, so those things were always in the forefront. I’ve worked in retail and in the fitness industry, and also have a master’s degree in health care administration. Writing is kind of my hidden talent, but this story was something I needed to share.

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?
It covers the theme of nonviolence and how the power of youth can combat evil in any circumstance. It’s about putting down your weapons, whether that’s guns, negative emotions or poor treatment of others.
In the book, the halos of angels light up when they sing. That light banishes everything evil in the world. When the book begins, there aren’t enough angels and the world is in despair. Then, 26 new angels are born. They face a lot of doubt from the older angels, but they’re given a try and are sent to bring a message of peace and nonviolence to the world.
I stayed away from any kind of religious elements. ­­ I chose to use angels because of the way they’re glorified in our culture, and there’s something cherubic about children. I thought it would be a nice symbol to use.

Chris Brady photo from the author
Chris Brady photo from the author

What inspired you to write about the Sandy Hook tragedy?
(The day of the shooting), I remember pulling my car over and listening to all the broadcasts. ­­ I was fixated on them. It was horrible listening to parents wondering if their child was alive, and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through. On 9/11, I was downtown (in New York City) and used writing to work through that, so it’s not surprising that I felt the need to write about this as well.
I was the choreographer for three years at Rocky Point Middle School and worked with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The book was partially linked to that experience of collaborating on an art that teaches the students to use their talents in a positive way.
Having worked with middle schoolers, I asked myself, what would I say to these kids? I’ve found myself suffering through tragedy and trying to cope with things I couldn’t understand, and I thought about what I would say to a younger me, as well as the families and loved ones of children who have lost their lives.
There’s something so unbelievably pure about first-graders. I told myself there has to be a way to brighten people’s lives in the absence of these children, and it’s happening. You can choose to either wallow in the darkness or make something brighter out of life. This was my way of balancing out the darkness with light and combat unspeakable evil with incredible good.
Obviously, one story can’t fix everything. But if we continue to give back to the people left behind, light really will shine through that darkness.

Who is the ideal audience for “Twenty­-six Angels”?
The book says ages 4 to 8, but I really think it would be appropriate for kids 6 to 10 or even 6 to 12. It can speak to all children and has a timeless feel. The poetry is a little bit elevated, but because it’s sing­song (in style) and rhymes, it’s easy for young children to grab onto. I read the book to a group of 4-­year­-olds and they definitely understood the message, which was great to see. Beyond that, it’s really for anybody looking for comfort. I’ve had an equally strong response from adults and children.

The book is written entirely in rhyme. Why did you choose this format?
With this subject and the idea of creating a song together, I thought rhyme would be most effective for the message.

How can parents or other adults use this book to help the children in their lives?
The first thing that you can teach a child is the difference between play and reality. We can play pirates and Jedis, but they really have no business with a weapon. That might be an unpopular opinion for some, but it’s what I believe. All of us are capable of violence, and children need to learn to channel their passions in a positive way.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping to take any proceeds from the book and use them to help the people of Newtown in any way I can. I learned recently that many people are just showing up there to help out. This book belongs first and foremost in the hands of the people affected by the tragedy. It’s not about the profits for me.

Where can we get the book? How much is it?
You can find the book at all of the major online retailers, as well was www.archwaypublishing.com. The more interest there is, the more likely we’ll be to get it on shelves in the future, too. It’s available in hardcover for $22.95, softcover for $16.95 and as a digital e­book for $3.99.

Where can people learn more about you or contact you?
You can always email me at chrisbrady22@gmail.com. You can also find out more on the book’s Facebook page, “Twenty­Six Angels ­ Children’s Book Launch.”

Chris Brady will hold a book signing on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 11 a.m. For more information, call 631-928-9100.

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Colorado Springs is not around the corner. But the effects of a tragic shooting there the day after Thanksgiving have trickled down and made a very real impact on Suffolk County.

We spent much of the fall season interviewing candidates running for various offices, and more than once we were reminded that our county police department was being stretched too thin.

Fast forward a few weeks to the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado that killed three and injured nine. Our county police department announced it would be increasing patrols near the five clinics in its jurisdiction as a result. The department also committed itself to training Planned Parenthood officials in crime prevention, which hopefully will provide a more lasting impact on preventing similar tragedies here.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between the national conversation and the small-town scuttlebutt, but this is an example of how one person’s actions can have a nationwide effect. In our case, it is strapping an already taxed police department.

The consequences are real, and there are things we could do on a local level that could perhaps trickle in the opposite direction — up to the national conversation.

We could strive to better care for our neighbors, both through publicly funded mental health programs that provide more access to treatment and more comprehensively deal with mental illness, and by speaking up when someone we know is behaving erratically or speaking in an alarming manner. We are seeing more and more irrationally thinking people commit acts like the shooting in Colorado Springs, in which the assailant targeted people unknown to him. And it seems impossible that none of these perpetrators displayed irrational behavior or thought beforehand.

A strongly connected community is an excellent safety net. We should work to weave ours tighter.

File photo.

Gunshots rang out in the Huntington area twice over the weekend, leading police to find injured young men lying on the ground in separate but similar incidents.

The first shooting occurred early on Saturday morning in Huntington Station. The Suffolk County Police Department said at about 1:35 a.m., officers responded to West Hills Road and President Street after a 911 call reported the shooting. Those 2nd Precinct officers found 22-year-old local resident Nelson Hernandez lying on the sidewalk, a gunshot wound to his back.

Not even 24 hours later, just after midnight on Sunday, 2nd Precinct officers responded to Stuyvesant Street in Greenlawn, between Crown Avenue and Brand Drive, after another 911 call reporting a shooting. Police said they found 18-year-old Aaron Jolly, a Northport resident, lying in the street with a gunshot wound on his right leg.

Hernandez was in serious condition at Huntington Hospital, police said, and Jolly was treated and released from the same facility.

In both cases, police reported that the shooter was unknown. Hernandez was shot while walking on West Hills Road near President Street, and it was not clear whether there was a single shooter of multiple assailants. Jolly was reportedly standing in the street when he was shot by an unknown person.

Detectives from the SCPD’s 2nd Squad are investigating the two shootings. Anyone with information is asked to call them at 631-854-8252, or to call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 800-220-TIPS.

Story last updated on July 22, at 3 p.m.

Officers discovered a young man lying in the street after he was shot in Huntington Station on Saturday night, July 18.

Suffolk County police responded to a call shortly after 8 p.m. on 11th Avenue, across from Clifford Court, where they found Luis Hernandez with a gunshot wound in his leg.

Police said Hernandez was standing in the street in front of his house when he was shot, and the shooter’s identity is still unknown. Police said Hernandez was in stable condition at Huntington Hospital.

However, Alexandra Zendrian, director of public relations for North Shore-LIJ Health System, said on Tuesday in a phone interview that no one by the name of Luis Hernandez was in their directory.

Attempts to contact Hernandez this week were unsuccessful.

The shooting happened mere blocks from Huntington Manor Fire Department’s annual fireman’s fair, where many residents of Huntington Station were enjoying a fireworks show.

“Another one of our children [is] being wounded, what is it going to take to stop this?” June Margolin, a founder of Huntington Matters Neighborhood Watch said on Monday. Huntington Matters Neighborhood Watch was founded in 2014 due to the number of young casualties the community had suffered in the past two years.

The organization aims to unite citizens and law enforcement to deter crime and make the community safer.

The Huntington Station community is still feeling the effects of violence against its youth. On Thursday, July 16, friends and family of 18-year-old Maggie Rosales, 25-year-old Danny Carbajal and 23-year-old Sarah Strobel gathered at Depot Road Park for a memorial ceremony dedicated to the three Huntington Station youths that fell victim to crimes over the last two years.

Rosales was found stabbed to death, on Lynch Street in Huntington Station last October. Carbajal was shot in the head in July 2014 outside his Huntington Station home. Strobel’s body was found off the side of a path in Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve in October 2013.

While police have charged Adam Saalfield of Huntington Station with Rosales’ murder, the other two victims have not yet seen justice, which is currently the same situation Hernandez is in.

“The police are working harder with us and I am looking forward to the new inspector at the 2nd Precinct, I hope there will be new ways to address this problem,” Margolin said. “But to me it doesn’t seem like this issue is slowing down.”

Friends, family of young victims dedicate memorial to trio

Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese

Friends and family of three Huntington Station youths who were killed over the last two years came together on Thursday evening to dedicate trees and a memorial stone in their honor.

The Huntington Town-sponsored memorial ceremony took place at Depot Road Park and featured friends and family of 18-year-old Maggie Rosales, 25-year-old Danny Carbajal and 23-year old Sarah Strobel, as well as a number of community members.

Rosales was found stabbed to death, lying on Lynch Street in Huntington Station last October. Carbajal was shot in the head in July 2014 outside his Huntington Station home. Strobel’s body was found off the side of a path in Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve in October 2013.

Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese
Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese

Town officials attended the memorial service and offered some words, town spokesman A.J. Carter said on Friday. Many community members took part in the effort, including Kathleen Kufs and Jim McGoldrick, two individuals who organized the event.

“To be honest with you, it was a sad thing that we had to do this, but in a way it brought the community together,” McGoldrick reflected in a phone call on Friday. “And the community is very concerned about our children, and our teenagers especially.”

While there’s still more to do, McGoldrick said “things are getting better” in Huntington Station. He said he got involved in efforts to extinguish crime in the neighborhood after Rosales was found dead in the street in front of his home.

Kufs said she came up with the idea for the memorial a few months ago. She wanted “to have a place for the families and friends of these poor young people who were murdered, a place to go for peace and reflection and for the community to remember that these young lives were lost but not forgotten, and also to shed light on the fact that two of them are still unsolved.”

Police have charged Huntington Station man Adam Saalfield with Rosales’ murder, but the other two victims have not yet seen justice.

“There’s no closure,” McGoldrick said. “Danny and Sarah’s murderers have never been caught. People are very concerned about that.”

A Middle Island man was arrested over the weekend and charged in connection with an armed robbery in Kings Park that left one victim with a bullet wound to the leg, the Suffolk County Police Department said.

Gaven Benson is being charged with assault, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon after an incident in Kings Park on July 1. Photo from SCPD
Gaven Benson is being charged in connection with an armed robbery in Kings Park on July 1. Photo from SCPD

Gaven Benson, 16, was a guest in Amal Cummings’ home on Old Dock Road in Kings Park to help her move on July 1 when police said he pointed a gun and demanded money from both Cummings and her friend, 29-year-old Brentwood man Henry Wrobel, to which Cummings complied. The teen then shot Wrobel once in the leg and fled around 11:15 p.m., cops said.

Wrobel was treated at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and later released, Suffolk County police said.

Benson was arrested on Northbridge Drive in Coram at about 4:45 p.m. on July 3 after a police investigation and charged with assault, robbery, attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.

His attorney could not be reached.

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Our nation suffered yet another tragedy last week when an avowed racist allegedly murdered nine people at the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and it didn’t take long for the debates to start.

Should the Confederate flag still be flown? Does institutional racism still exist? Should the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, be labeled as a terrorist?

The correct answer depends on whom you are speaking to. Most people already have an opinion and are sticking to it, which really doesn’t solve any of the important issues this most recent incident brings to light. Nine innocent people are still dead.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups nationwide has increased by 30 percent since 2000. In addition, antigovernment groups rose from 149 in 2008 to 874 in 2014 — numbers that jumped following the financial downturn and the election of President Barack Obama. The center also cited an influx of nonwhite immigrants as another factor.

“This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive,” the center said on its website.

We are lucky to live in a country that values freedom of speech and there are countless platforms to voice our opinions today as the Internet continues to connect us. But, it also gives individuals a space to spread their message with like-minded people. Our nation has a serious case of confirmation bias — the tendency to read, listen and seek out information that we agree with — and it is a big issue.

Those who condemn the killings but continue to spew vitriol are fueling a fire. The effects of the South Carolina shooting rippled throughout the country because they could happen in any community, including our own. In fact, one of the victims was a blood relative of a family from Port Jefferson.

The chilling notion that hatred and racism still persist in modern American society should not be ignored. Our freedoms come with responsibility and those who preach hatred against any group of people are wrong. As a society we need to be kinder, or at least remember the lessons we learned as children.

Let’s think before we speak, and if we don’t have anything nice to say, let’s not say it at all.

Pam White and her family speak at Sunday’s service in Setauket. Photo from Marlyn Leonard

Setauket is 830 miles away from Charleston, S.C. But on Sunday, that could not have been closer to home.

An openly racist gunman suspected to be 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday, killing nine, including a relative of one North Shore family. And on Sunday, Three Village took that national tragedy and balled it up into a clear and concise community-driven message that puts love in the face of evil as more than 100 people flooded the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket to show solidarity.

“What we saw was a community coming together so well that it was almost unbelievable,” said Leroy White, whose second cousin DePayne Middleton Doctor lost her life in the tragic shooting last week. “The response was so overwhelming that we were taken aback by the number of people who showed up. It showed me that this is one of the better communities in America.”

White and more than 10 other members of his family moved to Port Jefferson from South Carolina nearly five decades ago and have since been active members of the Setauket church, working as volunteers and striving to better the Three Village community. His oldest daughter Pam White was even one of the several speakers at Sunday’s service, which called on particular themes of forgiveness, love and respect, before the family headed down to South Carolina earlier this week to pay respects.

“It was powerful and packed,” said Mount Sinai resident Tom Lyon, a member of the church and longtime friend of the White family. “There was such a large contingent of folks from various parts of the community. It was very much a healing event.”

Gregory Leonard, pastor at the Bethel AME Church, referred to the White family as one of the congregation’s longest-serving families and have embedded themselves into the greater leadership of the church. He said the family’s impact on the greater North Shore community was on full display Sunday as members from groups outside of just the Bethel AME congregation came out to show support and mourn.

“What I realized is that the shooting down in South Carolina did not only affect the members of that church, or the members of the black community, but the entire community. I could see it in the faces of those people on Sunday,” Leonard said of the Sunday service. “We needed to come together to mourn and draw strength from one another.”

Other speakers at the service also included state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).

“The sense of hatred that was calculated by a very twisted individual to inspire a race war was defeated by the response of the victims’ families, who said, ‘we forgive you,'” Englebright said. “We’ve already had a race war. It was called the Civil War. We are not going to have another race war. So how important it is, then, that the stars and bars Confederate battle flag that still flies over the South Carolina capital comes down.”

Marlyn Leonard of Bethel AME said she jumped to action in the aftermath of the hate-infused shooting last week and did not stop until Sunday’s service became reality. She said the lingering sentiments of pain and racism were immediately put to rest when she saw cars lining the streets near the Setauket church and more than 120 people packing the building to light candles for the victims.

“This happened in South Carolina, but we were hit right at home,” she said. “But the White family, like those of the other victims, was still forgiving. They are a wonderful family and we thank God the day turned out wonderfully.”

Looking ahead, Leonard said he hoped the greater Three Village community learned a lesson in the wake of the tragedy, spurring interfaith groups to come together.

DA says suspect faces life in prison if convicted of shooting Mark Collins

District Attorney Tom Spota says Sheldon Leftenant faces life in prison if convicted of shooting police officer Mark Collins. Photo by Barbara Donlon

A shot in the neck was close to fatal for a Suffolk County cop injured in the line of duty, according to a details of the struggle with his alleged shooter law enforcement officials recapped last week.

District Attorney Tom Spota released new details surrounding the March 11 shooting of Suffolk County Police Officer Mark Collins in a news conference on Friday afternoon. The DA said after investigators spoke with Collins, they found out the play-by-play of what happened that night in Huntington Station.

The suspect, Sheldon Leftenant, 22, of Huntington Station was indicted by a grand jury in Riverhead on Friday shortly before the news conference. Leftenant pleaded not guilty to attempted aggravated murder of a police officer, resisting arrest and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The suspect could be facing up to life in prison if convicted of the charges, Spota said.
Collins, who worked for the 2nd Precinct’s gang unit, pulled over the vehicle where Leftenant, who is allegedly a member of the “Tip Top Boyz” gang, was a passenger. After being asked to get out of the vehicle, the suspect fled out of the right rear passenger door and Collins chased after him.

“Collins gave chase, he had his police-issued taser in hand,” Spota said. “He never drew his weapon.”

The officer continued to chase Leftenant when he cornered the suspect, after Leftenant was not being able to open a gate at 11 Mercer Court. A confrontation took place and the officer tasered Leftenant. The officer was unaware the suspect had a gun, Spota.

“Collins successfully deployed his taser twice in Leftenant’s back and while it brought the defendant to the ground, unfortunately it did not completely immobilize him,” Spota said.

The officer dropped down to handcuff Leftenant when a struggle ensued. At that point, Collins was on top of Leftenant and reported seeing two blue flashes and hearing four gunshots in quick succession. The officer was shot in the neck and hip. The neck shot, had it been any closer, could have hit the carotid artery and killed him, officials said.

“Police Officer Collins knew right away he had been shot because he couldn’t feel anything on his right side and he couldn’t move at all his right arm or his right leg,” Spota said.

Collins began to try and drag himself over to a stoop on the property, as he was trying to protect himself the best he could.

“He tried to draw his weapon, but he had lost the complete use of his right arm, right leg, that’s why he is actually crawling to get over here,” the DA said, pointing to a spot on a photo of the crime scene where the officer went to protect himself.

Spota said Collins knew the gun was .38 caliber revolver and that there were at least two shots left. He covered himself with his police-issued bullet proof vest and faced it towards the suspect, as he felt Leftenant would walk over and shoot him again.

After allegedly shooting the officer, Leftenant fled and dropped the weapon in the backyard of 13 Mercer Court. He then ran about a quarter-mile away from the scene and hid. According to Spota, canine units quickly arrived and found the gun and Leftenant.

Two bullets were found inside the Mercer Court home where the struggle took place. While people were home as the two struggled outside, no one was injured by the shots.

After court, Leftenant’s lawyer Ian Fitzgerald said the defendant was sorry to be in this situation, but wouldn’t comment any further.

“I don’t think he showed any mercy at all, after all he fires two shots one in his neck virtually point blank range, that doesn’t tell me there is any mercy at all,” Spota said.

During Leftenant’s arraignment, a handful of the suspect’s family members were in the audience. While they wouldn’t comment, they left the courtroom chanting, “Free Shel.”

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