“I couldn’t see his face, but I know that’s the one who did it.”
David Collins was going through his brother’s belongings trying to find his phone. It wasn’t on him when he found him wounded in the burned-out stairwell right next to their apartment on the 16th floor of the Woodrow Wilson Houses in East Harlem on that Monday night. “If I can find it, maybe I can find the killer,” he said.
Collins was in the bathroom when he heard the front door close. Shortly afterwards he heard gunshots. He ran out of the family apartment in his robe and into the dark stairwell to investigate. Collins recounted seeing a man in a hoodie and skullcap coming down the stairs. “What happened?” he asked. “I don’t know,” the hooded man replied.
Collins went inside to put on some clothes. He asked his mother who’d gone out the front door. “Kobe,” she said referring to her younger son. Kobe, 28, had been asleep shortly before his family heard the gunshots that killed him.
Collins ran back outside and up a flight of steps. When he rounded the corner he saw his younger brother slumped on the stairs. He tried CPR, but was unable to help him.
“My brother was a good dude,” said Collins. “He just loved everybody, anybody. Everybody was in the hall trying to save him.”
Police said they were called to the Wilson Houses shortly before 9 p.m. on Dec. 12, where they found Aaron Kobe Collins shot in the torso. Although he was rushed to Metropolitan Hospital by emergency services, he was pronounced dead on arrival.
“He was a loving brother and a good father,” said his sister Lasheika Collins. “Anything I needed or my kids wanted, he’d get it for us. He always looked out for his family, looked after our mother.”
Kobe was in fact battling the courts for custody of his son, who had been removed from his mother, Kobe’s ex-girlfriend, and placed in a foster home.
Lasheika Collins said she thinks her brother knew his killer, and that more than one person may have been involved. She believes the person who set up the killing is also from the Wilson Houses complex.
Sean Collins, another of the victim’s siblings, said he believes the killer was motivated by jealousy. “He was high on something, looking for nice things,” he said, flashing his own jewelry. Collins said his brother was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Lasheika Collins also said her family was thinking of suing the Housing Authority, which is responsible for their building. The walls and lights in the stairwell where Kobe Collins was murdered were blackened by a fire up to the 20th floor over a month ago, the family said. Furthermore, Lasheika Collins said that the lack of security cameras and a broken panel on the front door of the building meant that anybody could walk in at any time without hindrance or fear of detection.
Lasheika Collins said she asked the assistant manager of Wilson Houses to fix the stairwell and front door the day after her brother was murdered, but that her request was met with ambivalence. “He took his last breath on that staircase,” she said, shaking her head.
A statement from the New York City Housing Authority said that the maintenance staff planned to repaint the walls and repair the missing glass panel in the building’s front door this week. It also said the city has set aside $43 million to install cameras and improve security at several housing developments across the city, including Wilson Houses, with work scheduled to begin in 2012.
The Collins family has lived in the apartment on the 16th floor of Wilson Houses since Kobe Collins was 4. He had a learning disability, and while he was unable to do paid work in adulthood, he was fond of basketball and drawing, filling notebooks with stark, graffiti-style sketches.
Kobe Collins’ death brings to 14 the number of murders in East Harlem this year, down from 18 last year. David Collins and his sister Lasheika said that too many of those deaths have occurred near their home. “Over here’s just bad, period,” she said.
Outside their city housing block on East 105th Street, an impromptu memorial reminds residents of the violent death of their 28-year-old neighbor.
Residents slowed as they approached the entrance to the building on December 15. A flattened cardboard box had been taped next to the door. Some wrote personal messages:
“RIP KOBE. Lost but never forgotten.”
“We will dearly miss you.”
“That drink was for my G.”
“RIP Kobe Ima keep them pullups scrappy S.I.P”
Green and white candles with “R.I.P. Kobe” in black marker burned at the foot of the impromptu memorial, next to empty bottles of malt liquor.
“Never bothered nobody,” said James Cromartie, a handyman for the building, who remembered meeting Collins when he did repairs on his family’s apartment. “He was a quiet kid. Kept to himself.”
Another resident Deshawn Stevenson, 15, recalled Collins working out on the basketball courts each day.
Detectives from the New York Police Department’s 23rd Precinct were unable to comment, other than to say the investigation was continuing.
“They hit my best friend,” said David Collins. “Make sure you put in that article we loved him.”