By Connor Adams Sheets
A suspected murder-suicide and arson created a chaotic scene in downtown Flushing Saturday afternoon with two men dead and an immigration services center gutted by fire.
At about 2:30 p.m. two Chinese men got into an argument, probably over an immigration matter, after which a customer at the center slashed the throat of a worker and killed him, a source close to the investigation said. The customer is believed to have set fire to the building at 136-79 Roosevelt Ave. and then killed himself by slashing his wrists, the source said.
The suspected arsonist was alive when he was pulled from the building, the source said, and was taken to New York Hospital Queens where he was treated for extensive burns, but he later died in the hospital.
Early media reports about the incident identified the murderer as Shao-Fan Gong, 27, but that was later found to be wrong, according to the source. The slain worker was positively identified as Chang Xin Hu, 42.
Gong, who worked in the torched immigration services center, called someone close to the investigation Monday and said he was still alive and was not involved in the incident, according to the source. His wife had incorrectly identified the charred remains of the man found at the scene as his.
Also Monday, a Chinese immigrant showed up at a Chinese organization in Flushing to report that her son had been missing since Saturday and that he was not returning her telephone calls, according to the source. She said she had seen photographs in the news media of the man identified as Gong and noticed that the clothing he was wearing closely resembled items she had bought for her missing son, the source said, and when she had last seen him on Saturday her son had told her that he was headed to see his lawyer.
On Monday evening, the woman went to the 109th Precinct, where officers showed her the cell phone they found at the scene, which she identified as similar to her son’s, the source said. She also examined photographs of the badly burned face of the man, which she said looked like her son’s but could not positively identify, according to the source, who said the woman planned to visit the morgue Tuesday afternoon.
State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) was at the hectic scene Saturday and Sunday called for legislation to require licensing of immigration service centers, which often illegally provide legal services without employing an attorney and target vulnerable new immigrants.ï»¿
“They’ll take the money and say they’ll file the paperwork and then never file anything,” she said. “We are introducing legislation that these places should be licensed because they really follow no rules and regulations right now. If you are a manicurist, you have to follow more rules and regulations than these people.”
Flushing District Leader Martha Flores-Vazquez said she is concerned for the neighborhood and that she believes immigrants must stop targeting one another.
“I’ve been here for 32 years and it’s gotten progressively worse to the point that I’m afraid to walk down Roosevelt Avenue,” she said. “We need to crack down on immigrants taking advantage of their own people. These people come to try to get some services and they leave disenfranchised.”
The incident and the ensuing investigation snared rush hour traffic for hours at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street, one of the busiest intersections in the city, as hundreds of people lined Roosevelt, trying to see what was going on.
Police questioned workers in nearby stores and asked employees to move away from the scene. A body lay draped with a sheet on the sidewalk east of the building at about 4 p.m. Saturday, and the glass in a third-floor window in the center’s building was blown out.
Meng said the incident, which marked the sixth homicide of the year in the 109th Precinct — double last year’s total of three by this point — should not make people fearful to live in Flushing.
“I don’t want to alarm the community. I don’t want them to think it is a dangerous place to live or work,” she said. “This, though it was an unfortunate event, was an isolated event.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.