nilesite writes


New York, New York, USA
January 08
The Backpack Press
Pilgrim, writer, photographer, mom, singer - author of "A Marshmallow on the Bus: A Collection of Stories Written on the MTA."


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JANUARY 17, 2013 5:22PM

A Tree Memorial to Three Dead Boys

Rate: 13 Flag

tree memorial january

Three young men, Amaury Rodriguez, 30, Heriberto Suazo, 26, and Luis Catalan, 25, were shot and killed on a quiet neighborhood street in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan last June. It took the NYPD only two weeks to arrest the man who killed them.  It's been seven months and their families are still in mourning.

tree memorial 2 january

These photos were taken today.  There is always a bouquet of white roses taped to this tree.  There is always a note.  And the air around the note is filled with sadness and loss.  This tree stands next to the curb where the car was parked back in June, where they were all killed.  The older, dead flowers are not always taken down.  They are not replaced, but rather joined by fresh flowers.  The flowers are always white roses.

tree memorial november

In this photo from last fall, the "BANGA" reference calls for gun control and the photo is of one of the boys.  There was a tall white memorial candle taped to the base of the tree and I saw it lit once.

tree memorial september  

This is a photo from late in the summer; August, I think.  When I wrote about the event right after it happened, I was critical of the mother.  It was easy to assume she was also involved in drug dealing or use.  It was me acting out of my own sense of loss.  I wanted to blame someone other than the three boys. They had been stealing from drug dealers, the papers said.  But they were loved by a woman who comes to this tree all the time.  I am hoping she finds some comfort in the current efforts to control access to guns, but I think it's bigger than that.

This is a new kind of tree memorial.  In the past, trees were planted and plaques were laid to commemorate an event or the death of a politician.  Near this street, closer to Riverside Church, there is a lovely tree memorial to the chaplains who, after their boat was sunk in a battle during WW I, gave their lifevests to their fellow seamen.  The chaplains drowned, but their comrades were saved and the tree that was planted bore witness to that memorial.

But this is different, I think.  This tree bore witness to their murder and the memorial clings to the only thing close enough to the event.

I write this now because I watch as she mourns.  In all these months of taping the flowers, writing the notes, and posting signs, I have never seen her, or at least I don't think I have seen her. There was a woman once, right after it happened, who was talking to police near this tree, but I wouldn't recognize her now.

So, I want gun control to get in the way of killing.  I want gun control so that mothers, wives, and families can live out their lives together without the terrible pain that I still see here at this tree so many months later.   This woman claims this tree as her own memorial to her son and we are wrong if we don't watch her and share in her loss.  The killer on that day in June took something from all of us the same way the killer in Newtown or Aurora or Columbine did.  We all lose something precious every time someone is killed with a gun.

Photos by me, 2012, 2013


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This is a touching and effective way of adding your voice to the chorus for gun reform. Thank you for that.
Good thoughts. Unfortunately, do nothing seems too rule. Action is needed, not words.

Your thoughts are shared by many.
So sad. Thank you for this and for the poignant photographs. ~r
Wow What a personal story advocating gun control. The photos and story are so touching. Thank you.
Lea - I have wanted to say more about this for a while. I saw the flowers today and then looked back at my photos and found the series. I'm so glad you came by today. Thank you.

Lyle - action indeed and sooner rather than later.

Joan - The flowers caught my attention months ago. I keep thinking they are almost done, but I know they aren't. I'd like to speak with her, but I think if I ever saw her, I would watch but not say anything.

zanelle - thanks. I heard there are something like 88 guns for every 100 Americans right now. Let's find a way to beat these swords into ploughshares.
What a sad memorial and touching piece. Gunshot deaths on public streets are a loud call for reform.
I wonder how many other stories there are like this, ones you never hear about, mothers (and father too) like ghosts, mourning their children.
I can hear your heart breaking. Mine weeps in sympathy.

I know that if a great many people demand that the government establish strict gun control, you'll eventually get it.

My heart weeps even more for what you'll learn then..... that gun control won't stop the killings; won't even slow them down much, if at all. Those determined to kill, will kill. Those determined to commit suicide, will commit suicide. And those who think that a sick society can be made well by such band-aid measures will forever think so.

Until you're prepared to get to the root of the problem, many more times will you weep........ as will I.

So much better than a rant. This touches the heart. Very well done.
jlsathre - I just hope someone is listening. It's gotten pretty loud here.

margaret - Haunting is an interesting way to look at this. It's the living who are doing the haunting here, not the dead.

sky - I can't say that these young men would not have died violently if their killer did not have a gun. They did in fact live by the sword. But I believe that if guns were not everywhere, a less efficient means of attack might have left them wounded but alive. This killer sat in the back seat of a car and shot them each at that close range. He was captured on video leaving the car and disposing of the shirt he was wearing. A few days later, a friend of his sold the gun to an undercover cop.

ande - Thanks. I don't think people listen to me when I rant. I prefer just to tell a story. This tree is in front of a music school and directly opposite the building where I work.
ohhh...nilesite...we all have mothers. Pity the mothers, spare the children. This is excellent, excellent. I am so sorry about the subject though.
This is a story that makes the gun issue real. I wish it and your photos could be posted in the halls of Congress.
Bernardine - thanks. May I add your voice as well?

Erica - It was. It still is.

Emily - I'm sorry too. For some reason, I just stopped when I saw that fresh bouquet of roses this week.

Jan - Thanks - I would like that. It's important to hear all sides of this story. Just because these three had rap sheets that were probably as long as their arms doesn't mean the pain of losing them is any less real. One of them was married with children. I think it might be his wife who posts some of the extra notes.
PS - the writing on the piece of cardboard in the first photo reads, "This holiday season my son won't be coming home."
Fascinating and sad. Haunting.