By James DeWeese
After receiving a call from Russo's son, police discovered Antoinette Russo just before 7:30 p.m. Friday unconscious in the second-floor apartment on Cornish Avenue near 83rd Street where neighbors said she lived alone.Russo was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where she was admitted in critical condition. She died less than 12 hours later. Neighbors said Russo's corner lot, landscaped with tall shrubs nearly concealing the side of the house, had been the site of at least two previous burglaries.”She wasn't here before so she didn't get hurt,” said 15-year-old neighbor Steven Cao, who translated from Chinese for his mother, who pointed out that the elderly woman was not in her home when the burglars struck two times before. Steven's mother, Yong Mei Guan, said she often saw Russo Friday afternoons as the elderly woman who crisscrossed the neighborhood hunched over a small shopping cart made her way to mass.”This Friday that didn't happen,” Steven said. The teen said his mother “didn't think much of it, but then when (Russo's) son came, she got a little nervous.”Steven said Russo's son frequently called to check on his mother. Unable to get an answer Friday afternoon, Russo's son apparently went to the house where he discovered the woman inside her ransacked apartment and called police.Although Cao said he feels secure in his neighborhood, he said crime has become more frequent over the last couple of years. About a year ago, his family put bars on the windows of their home, which sits next to Russo's home, still roped off with police tape Tuesday.A funeral mass was held Tuesday morning at St. Bartholomew's Church on Ithaca Street, where Father Joseph Hoffman said Russo attended services every day.”She didn't just pay lip service to (her faith),” Hoffman told the about 200 who joined more than a dozen grieving, teary-eyed family members to pay their respects. “She gave a significant amount of time.”In addition to attending mass every day, Hoffman said Russo was an active member of the parish's Rosary Society and morning bible study group, as well as the Catholic Daughters organization. Russo also worked with the AARP.Grappling with the senselessness of the crime that killed the woman, who neighbors said bothered nobody and even helped older residents by doing their shopping,Hoffman said sometimes there is no apparent answer to the question why.”Under any circumstance it is very difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one … a parent,” Hoffman said. “But today it is even more difficult to understand and deal with the reality of death.”He went on to say: “This death is not something that comes from God. In this particular case, it is something that comes from sinfulness, selfishness and violence.”But he urged everyone who attended to reject vengeful impulses, saying “we should remember violence does not solve any problem. It just makes them worse.”No arrests had been made, and police were continuing to investigate.A spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said if an arrest is made in Russo's death, the defendant likely would face felony murder charges. Russo was buried Tuesday afternoon in Calvary Cemetery.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.