Residents unite following Sunnyside murder: many question police investigation
By Bill Parry and Christian Murray
More than 500 residents and friends of a Woodside man who was brutally murdered on a Sunnyside street last month gathered Saturday at the corner of 51st and 43rd Avenue calling for justice.
Holding candles and carrying white carnations, they participated to make a statement: this type of crime will not be tolerated in Sunnyside or Woodside. Furthermore, they wanted to put the perpetrators on notice that the community will find them.
Lou Rispoli, a long-time Woodside resident, was brutally attacked by three men at 41st Street and 43rd Avenue at 2:00 am October 20 and died five days later.
While the details of the incident are sketchy, the perpetrators were seen in a SUV or 2-door vehicle with Rispoli just prior to the attack. Then, they all got out of the vehicle and Rispoli was walking with two of the men before one of them struck him in the head with a blunt object.
Despite the warm community feeling on Saturday, beneath the surface many attendees expressed anger. They questioned the quality of the police investigation—particularly what occurred shortly after the incident.
The police were quick to arrive on the scene after the attack, only to leave once Rispoli was placed in an ambulance and taken to Elmhurst hospital. The police didn’t come back to the scene with their crime scene evidence vehicle until late Sunday afternoon. It was only then that the block was cordoned off with the “crime scene” yellow tape, as they sought to gather evidence.
Mark Horn, who has acted as the family spokesman since the murder, had mixed emotions about Saturday’s event. “It’s gratifying to see so many people in the community come out for this,” he said. However, “it’s important for the police to see that people are grieving…that they are angry.”
“I say this to the Commissioner Ray Kelly,” Horn said. “The day after Lou Rispoli was attacked there were no police at the hospital, yet when a nanny killed two children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan there was Ray Kelly in front of the cameras.”
“It was only when the NYPD realized that Lou Rispoli had important friends in the neighborhood that he himself became important,” Horn added.
Rispoli was a friend of councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s.
Many others expressed similar views. “Lou’s close friends are organizing to make sure that there are answers,” said Annie Raven (PhD.). “Just three days ago detectives interviewed Danyal [Rispoli’s husband] and they asked the very same questions they asked the first time. It seems that the investigation is right back at the start.”
“We have a close circle of friends,” Raven said. “We’ll band together to put pressure on the investigation to deliver answers and we will not stop until we have answers.”
Despite the anger, there was a strong sense of neighborhood unity.
The event started at 4:00 pm with Van Bramer, the organizer, saying a few words.
“This is an important march and candle light vigil,” Van Bramer told the crowd gathered at 51st Street. “Lou lived on this street, was brutally killed on it, and this type of crime is not acceptable: never,” he said. “We want to tell the three people out there that he [Lou] was loved–that the neighborhood cared.”
“This is a safe community and anyone should be able walk here, at any time,” Van Bramer said, adding that he would have held the same event no matter who it was.
There is a $25,000 reward being offered for an arrest and conviction of Rispoli’s killers, including $10,000 from the mayor’s office and $2,000 from the victim’s friends, the councilman said.
The attendees left the 51st location, where Rispoli once lived, and marched down to 41st Street holding the white carnations, which were Rispoli’s favorite flowers.
At the location of Rispoli’s death, Van Bramer said: “This is our neighborhood…we have a resilient community…This is a wonderful show of peace, love and community.”
For the first time, Rispoli’s widower spoke publicly. Danyal Lawson, 60, who had married Rispoli a year ago, said “I have been robbed of an amazing man,” adding that “Lou loved the [his apartment] building, the shopkeepers the restaurant owners and was never afraid to walk the streets…”
Rispoli and Lawson had lived together for 32 years. Lawson said that the two essentially got married at a ceremony in Turkey in 1989, six years after meeting one another. The couple met on the subway in 1980.
Lawson said that he believed the murder was due to a “random act of violence.” He said that he hadn’t been paying that close attention to the investigation. “I was so shocked by everything that I left Jimmy [Van Bramer] to keep on top of it.”
However, at the last community board meeting, Van Bramer had questions about the investigation.
“I think it is a fair question to ask why the evidence vehicle did not show up until Sunday [as opposed to Saturday morning]. I have some of the same questions you have, and we will find out what happened.”
Deputy Inspector Donald Powers, the head of the 108 Police precinct, has missed several community meetings in the past month—citing hurricane issues.
Several other officers have stepped in for Powers and have elected not to comment on the case. On Tuesday, at the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce meeting, Lt. Turner, in charge of Special Projects said, “We don’t want to hinder an active investigation. We will have a comment at the appropriate time.”
Carolina Tosi, a Community Board 2 member said: “The fact that Donald Powers was visibly absent at the last meeting, after such a horrible crime, proves that the 108th Precinct is out of touch with the community.”