The brutal murder of a 20-year-old Bronx man on Sunday evening in St. James Park led local political and religious leaders and members of the community – including the victim's victim's girlfriend, 11-month-old daughter and brother – to hold a prayer vigil in the park and call for justice as well as an end to violence that is increasing throughout the borough.
Police said Jelani Ciria was shot multiple times (the family and Councilman Fernando Cabrera say it was 16 times) on Sunday at about 6:10 p.m. as he exited St. James Park. Family members say the murder was a gang related hit and added that “We know who did it.” Cabrera called for witnesses to come forward in the name of justice.
At the prayer vigil, Ciria's family was accompanied by other Bronx families who had recently lost loved ones to gun violence in the same neighborhood.
Before the vigil began,Cabrera, along with State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., who both count St. James as part of their district, consoled the Ciria family and listened to their painful pleas for justice and action in finding the murderer.
Espada offered a $5,000 reward to anyone offering information leading to the arrest of Ciria's murderer and said he would work with law enforcement to install a surveillance system in the park.
Cabrera (see video above) called the recent increase in murders – up 22% from this time last year, though shootings are slightly down, according to NYPD stats – throughout the Bronx a case of “urban terrorism.” He called for community action from citizens to report illegal guns and activity to the police and urged citizens to call police hotlines with any information that could prevent future violence.
One of the vigil's chief organizers, Bishop Fernando Rodriguez, president of the Latin and African American Chaplain's Association (LACA), said his group and others were working towards planning future rallies and marches to bring attention to the increased violence.