CITY OF NEWBURGH — A 21-year-old man was shot and killed, likely for revenge, Friday night, capping a 24-hour spate of gang violence that police said was among the bloodiest in Newburgh's history.
"We've had our runs of violence in the past," Newburgh police Chief Eric Paolilli said. "But to have all of this interconnected violence happen in such a short period of time, this measures up against anything I've seen."
The chain of violence that rattled Newburgh Thursday and Friday included two homicides, three robberies and one gang assault with machetes. City police have arrested suspects only in the machete attack.
On Saturday, city police, witnesses and friends of the victim said the latest killing happened like this:
A shadowy figure pulled a handgun about 9:09 p.m. Friday and shot John "Tarzan" Maldonado three times — in his chest, the side of his torso and near his hip. Maldonado fell in the street at the corner of Benkard Avenue and Little Monument Street. Witnesses said he screamed as he was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to St. Luke's Hospital.
Maldonado was pronounced dead at 9:44 p.m. It was Newburgh's second homicide in less than 24 hours.
Police believe the two East-End killings might be connected. Jerome "Rude Boy" Scarlett — a friend of the Latin Kings street gang — was shot and killed Thursday night in a vacant lot. Several reports put Maldonado — an adversary of the Latin Kings — at the scene of Scarlett's death.
Police are investigating whether Maldonado's death was a retribution killing. Maldonado's girlfriend is already convinced.
"He was always saying the Latin Kings were after him," said 24-year-old Shameeka Burks, who has a 3-month-old boy with Maldonado.
Latin Kings tried to kill Maldonado once last week, Burks said. Maldonado, a freelance troublemaker without gang affiliations, was stabbed March 4 during a brawl at the corner of Broadway and South Miller Street, where he left his bloody shirt. At the hospital he refused treatment and zipped his lips when police asked him about the stabbing.
He left the hospital rapping a song, police said, and showed up at Burks' house a short time later. Maldonado, bleeding from a 1-inch-deep gash in his back, sat in her living room and stared at his son, Burks said.
"Take care of the baby, because I'm going to be dead soon," she said he told her.
Gang violence in Newburgh has grown so bad that it's drawn the attention of political leaders at the national level. Even President Barack Obama was briefed on Newburgh's gang violence, because it ranks among the worst in the country.
Authorities believe the recent violence is rooted in two separate gang feuds happening at the same time. One, a fight between La Eme and the Benkard Barrio Kings, was sparked by the Jan. 13 stabbing death of Levi King Flores, a La Eme member. The second battle, which killed Scarlett and Maldonado, is between the Latin Kings and Bloods street gangs.
"There's more than two very distinct groups going at it," Paolilli said. "At this point they're all vying for position to make their mark, so to speak."
Burks said her boyfriend, with wild hair and a shirtless habit that earned him the "Tarzan" nickname, could have made a happy mark with his sweet singing voice. Instead, the only remnants of Maldonado were a candle-and-balloon memorial, a photo taped amid graffiti on a wall and a new criminal investigation in gang-poisoned Newburgh.