Volume 77 / Number 44 - April 02 - 08, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Shoshanna Bettencourt

Bernard Valentin, brother of slain Key Food cashier Tina Negron, spoke at a press conference announcing the new Silence Is Violence coalition last Thursday as Councilmember Rosie Mendez, to his right, listened.

Key Food murderer is caught amid calls to end the violence

By Jefferson Siegel

Police in Miami arrested James Gonzalez, 42, the suspect in the Feb. 29 stabbing death of his former girlfriend at the Key Food supermarket on Avenue A at E. Fourth St., two days after he was featured in the March 29 television broadcast of “America’s Most Wanted.”

The suspect checked into a Salvation Army shelter on March 31 and was recognized from the television broadcast by a shelter employee, who called police.

Police who made the arrest at 7:30 p.m., said Gonzalez offered no resistance and told them he was intending to leave Miami the following day, according to a Daily News report.

Gonzalez, who had a Bronx address but was raised on E. Second St. and spent most of his time in the East Village, was a maintenance employee in the Key Food, where Tina Negron, 24, was stabbed to death and a bookkeeper, Rosheda Andradas, 27, was injured.

An award of $14,500 was offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction, according to Sergeant Jeff Ford of the Ninth Precinct Detectives Squad.

The previous week, a local group announced the formation of a new antiviolence coalition to address what they see as an alarming increase of attacks in the neighborhood. 

Last Thursday morning, standing across the street from the Key Food supermarket where Negron was murdered, members of the Lower Eastside Girls Club, several local politicians and Negron’s older brother announced the creation of the antiviolence initiative. 

“It has taken her death to bring us together,” said Democratic District Leader Anthony Feliciano, in explaining the new coalition’s call to “step up against violence.”  

The purpose of the coalition is, first, to raise awareness of the issue. Then, to “engage people in concrete activities in our district,” explained Lyn Pentecost, L.E.S. Girls Club executive director.  

“We’re planning a congress of teenagers this coming fall,” Pentecost said. “We hope to train them to bring a message of peace and nonviolence into their schools.

“The Lower East Side is an incredibly warm, caring and wonderful community,” she added. “This [violence] cannot go on and it must be recognized. This is a crime against all of us.” 

Negron’s brother, Bernard Valentin, speaking publicly for the first time since his sister’s murder, said he found comfort in the support of Negron’s co-workers and neighbors. 

“She was loved by family and friends throughout the neighborhood,” Valentin said of his sister, killed just two weeks shy of her 25th birthday. “She was a humble person who often saw the good in people when others did not.” 
Valentin suggested that Gonzalez, who stabbed Negron in the manager’s office after confronting her, may have taken advantage of Negron’s good nature. Valentin noted that, contrary to earlier reports, the pair did not date for a year, but only for four months. Gonzalez held himself out as a born-again Christian at a time when Negron was beginning to explore her own personal faith, Valentin said.

Once they started dating, Gonzalez became “very possessive of Tina. He tried to keep her from spending time with family and friends and pressuring her to marry him right away,” Valentin recounted. 

“Tina worked six days a week as a cashier at the Key Food supermarket,” Valentin continued, turning to the store across the street as he spoke, “while waiting for a job opening at any of the local hospitals, either to become a medical assistant or perform medical billing. 

“Our Tina became a hero who stood up against a man who tried to control her every move,” he said. “In doing so, she stood up for women and men around the world.” 

Valentin, a social worker for the homeless in Los Angeles, said he hoped the antiviolence press conference would convince Gonzalez “to be a man and to turn himself in.” 

It was a Key Food customer who alerted Valentin to the growing problem of local violence. On the day of the murder, the customer told him, that finding the market closed, she had walked two blocks east to another store, only to see a man beating up a woman on the street. 

As a result, Negron’s family partnered with the Lower Eastside Girls Club to form the new Silence Is Violence coalition. 

Councilmember Rosie Mendez added her voice to those of the new coalition.

“We are grieving today, not just for Tina, but for all those individuals who are victims of all kinds of violence,” Mendez said as Valentin stood by her side.

“Verbal abuse, verbal harassment and physical harassment are unacceptable,” Mendez continued, adding that, “more often than not, they will lead to physical violence, as happened here.” 

Concerned about the increase in violence nationwide, Mendez said that last November she introduced a resolution in the City Council calling on the federal government to create a Department of Peace and Nonviolence.

“Until the federal government steps up to look at those trends, to eliminate the epidemic, we will continue to have more unfortunate cases like what happened to Tina,” the councilmember warned.

Three members of the Girls Club then read a poem by Negron that foreshadowed the danger she ultimately faced.  

“I see souls being lost because young brothers and sisters don’t know how to act,” the trio intoned. “I see the whole world coming to an end. I see me dying, but me fighting, on what’s on my mind, is trying to be, and that is really a message to you.” 

The gathering ended with the crowd chanting, “Silence equals violence.” 

The day after the antiviolence press conference, police released a security camera video showing Gonzalez holding a large knife as he climbed the steps to the manager’s office where he attacked Negron.

There was no video of the attack.

Inside the small, glassed-in office, when bookkeeper Andradas came to Negron’s aid, Gonzalez also stabbed her several times. Andradas is now recovering at home. 

Valentin said neighbors in his sister’s Lower East Side building had collected more than $2,000 for her mother and sister. 

Other groups adding their numbers to the coalition include Peace Games, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), East Village Community Coalition, Middle Collegiate Church, St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association and University Settlement. 

The murder gained such notoriety that last Saturday, the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” aired a segment focusing on Negron’s murder in the hope that her killer would be recognized and caught. 

When he called The Villager on March 24 to announce that “A.M.W.” would be airing a segment that Saturday, Jon Leiberman, the show’s New York City correspondent, had vowed, “We’re going to catch him Saturday night.” According to Leiberman, 25 percent of the fugitive captures prompted by the show happen within 24 hours after the segment airs. In this case, it took an additional day.

For information or to participate in the Silence is Violence coalition, e-mail the L.E.S.G.C. at info@girlsclub.org. 

With reporting by Albert Amateau




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