Mr. Collao had been attending a party being thrown by two young men in an abandoned house without electricity at 87-19 90th Street. The party had been advertised on Facebook and those attending were charged $7 to get in. The teens that crashed the party and beat Mr. Collao to death began hurling anti-gay insults in the moments leading up to the attack.
It didn’t matter to them that Mr. Collao was not gay. He just happened to be a handy victim; it could have been any one of us. In the days and weeks that followed, the tragedy of that evening received widespread attention. A candlelight vigil was held and elected officials and activists from all over came to Woodhaven to speak out against this hateful crime.
Eighteen months later all of the ingredients for a repeat tragedy are in place. The house at 87-19 90th Street is still abandoned, occupied by squatters. Local residents say that the two men who threw the original party are still living at the house, which has been the scene of recent police activity, including an arrest for drug possession.
The windows are smashed. There is a horrible smell around the house, some of it coming from the garbage that is regularly strewn all over the property. On the occasions where you can see inside, the walls are covered in graffiti. Loud music can be heard late in the evenings and visitors are frequently spotted coming to hang out and party.
In other words, not a damned thing has changed.
“I’m afraid to walk down 90th Street,” one Woodhaven resident who lives two blocks away from the house told me. On his way home from work he will sometimes go out of his way to walk down 89th Street just to avoid this house, as well as another abandoned house at 87-33 on the same block.
“It gets real bad at night,” the resident said. “There are groups of young men who hang out at those houses or sit on different stoops, drinking, heckling people passing by, especially women.”
How is it that 18 months after such a horrific attack that garnered so much attention we are on the verge of a repeat performance? Residents have filed complaints with the Department of Buildings. There is currently one open violation for it being a “vacant/open/unguarded structure.” Additionally, according to the DOB Website, there are over $100,000 worth of penalties due to pending violations.
This situation raises many questions that need to be answered, some of them going all the way back to the night of Mr. Collao’s brutal murder. For one, if the original party was being held in an abandoned house were the persons responsible for organizing the party ever charged with trespassing? If not, why not?
If those responsible for organizing the party had permission to be in the house, who did they get that permission from? And if someone did give them permission, why weren’t they ever charged with allowing a huge party in a house without electricity, thus creating a dangerous condition?
Who is responsible for the house right now? What do we have to do to get this house emptied and sealed? What do we have to do to reclaim 90th Street?
In the wake of Mr. Collao’s murder, many different people spoke out about the importance of not letting this happen again. But once the candles went out, the memories of how that night began seem to have extinguished as well.