By Mark Gerlach
Residents expressed sadness, worry, and other concerns related to violence in the city during a Feb. 13 council meeting, which was held the day after 24-year-old Gevontay Owens-Grant was fatally shot at a Valentine’s Day party. Three other victims were wounded by gunfire at the party, which occurred in the basement of 253 South William St. A church is located on the top floor of the building, which isn’t connected to the incident, police said.
New York State Crime Stoppers is offering a $2,500 reward for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the shooting. Anyone with information is asked to call the Crime Stoppers’ hotline at 866-313-8477. Callers can remain anonymous, an announcement said, as there’s no caller ID on Crime Stoppers hotline phones.
In a separate incident, not even a day later, a man sustained a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to his left arm in the area of Liberty Street and Henry Avenue. It was unclear by press time if police believe the shootings are connected.
Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to call the City of Newburgh Police Department at 845-561-3131.
Jeannette Drake, whose daughter Tabitha Cruz, 20, was fatally shot at a Halloween party last October, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We can’t continue to have our kids scared to go outside at nighttime,” Drake said. “We cannot continue to not be able to go to sleep at nighttime, afraid we’re getting that call in the middle of the night.”
Omani Free, 18, was also killed in the October shooting, which occurred at 119 Broadway. Five others were struck by gunfire, but survived. Nija Johnson, 17, of Newburgh pleaded guilty on Feb. 16 to two counts of murder in the second degree and five counts of attempted murder in the second degree in connection with the shooting. Under a plea agreement, Johnson will be sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison, an announcement from Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler’s office said.
“This party situation is out of control,” Mayor Judy Kennedy said. The city is looking to put “structure” and “control” around parties, by possibly requiring a license or permit to rent a venue, she said.
“We can’t legislate our way out of this,” Kennedy said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this. It’s going to take everybody.”
To read the full article see the Friday, Feb. 17 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.