Vigil held for slain mother of three

By Vianey Alderete Contreras. Mourners at a vigil for Jessica White at John Adams Houses on June 15.

By Vianey Alderete Contreras. Mourners at a vigil for Jessica White at John Adams Houses on June 16.

Jessica White’s killer remains at large

More than 100 people gathered at the John Adams Houses playground in Longwood on Wednesday, holding candles and anti-gun banners to remember 29 year old Jessica White and to condemn the neighborhood’s continued gun violence.

Residents, community leaders and members of local anti-gun violence organizations chanted White’s name as they walked from 680 Tinton Avenue to the playground where a stray bullet hit White as she protected her three children from gunfire last Saturday night. NYPD has not yet identified the shooter. At the time White was visiting her mother, a resident of Adams Houses.

The vigil was organized by Adams Houses tenant organizer Ronald Topping, who blamed the code of silence among criminals for police not yet catching White’s murderer.

“You could say this is the breaking point of the gun violence in the neighborhood, because we’ve had several shooting and no arrests. This is the kind of tragedy that we live in,” said Topping.

City Councilman Rafael Salamanca, Jr. underscored the sadness of having to hold a vigil, rather than a celebration, in a playground.

“We will find who did this and bring justice to ensure that this does not happen again,” said Salamanca Jr.

Representatives from gun violence prevention and youth organizations Save Our Streets (S.O.S.), Lead by Example & Reverse the Trend Inc., and BronxConnect attended the vigil. June is Gun Violence Awareness Month across the state.

Michael Alvarado Chaplain of BronxConnect, which provides advocacy programs for high-risk youth, said the group relies on volunteers who come from similar backgrounds as those engaged in violent crime, “and have an ability to connect with people of the neighborhood,” to defuse violence.

Topping said the familiar litany of social issues continues to fuel crime in the area.

“People don’t have very many options because they are poverty stricken, underemployed,” and have limited access to educational opportunities, he said.

While leading a prayer, community activist Reverend Carmen Hernández urged the large crowd to get involved in local affairs to influence city policy on issues like gun control, and improve their surroundings.

“When you don’t go out there and vote, there’s people that are making decisions for you,” she said.

In the center of the vigil, Jessica White’s children Danielle, 9, Josiah, 5, and Damien Jr., 3, stood with their father Damien Bell, and grandmothers Gola White and Diana Void.

Void, who lives in the same apartment in the McKinley Houses a few blocks away where White lived with her children and their father, recalled her granddaughter seeming tired on the Saturday evening that the shooting took place. When she asked her why she was going out, White responded that she wanted to visit her mother.

“I’ve lost a few friends, I’ve seen my kid’s friends grow up and die, it’s everywhere,” said Void, adding that there aren’t enough police or security cameras to keep crime in check in the area.

A grainy video of the suspected killer.

A grainy NYPD still of the suspected killer.

Last January, NYCHA officials held a press conference at John Adams Houses to announce it was placing 72 new security cameras inside and outside the seven buildings, as part of a citywide initiative to help cut down on violence in public housing. The cameras are monitored by NYCHA personnel inside the buildings, with a direct feed to PSA 7, the public housing police force that has jurisdiction over the complex.

The murder was the fifth so far this year in public housing complexes within the confines of the 40th Precinct, according to the NYPD. There have been two murders reported so far this year at St. Mary’s houses, and one each at Betances and Mott Haven Houses.

PSA 7 did not respond to requests for comment.

But Void added that the responsibility for stopping crime should not rest solely on the shoulders of police and cameras—-residents have to act together to get rid of guns.

“We as a community are the cause of what is going on, we are killing each other,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how many cops we have, if your mindset doesn’t change it’s not going to change anything.”