By Rebecca Henely
When Chanel French, 21, came to Queens last summer to visit her father, everything “seemed great,” as her mother said. A military school graduate who had gone to the Camp Pendleton base in Virginia Beach, Va., French had dreams of working with mentally disabled children in hospitals.
A few months later, on Labor Day weekend, French was dead. Police found her in the early morning hours of Sept. 6 on 202nd Street near 119th Avenue in St. Albans with two shots in her torso and one in her left leg. As of press time Tuesday, her killers, whom neighbors ï»¿said attacked her at a block party nearby, have not been found and police said there are no updates in the case.
French’s mother, who has asked that her name not be revealed, is now urging St. Albans residents or anyone else who may know information about the incident to come forward to the authorities.
“I just don’t understand this,” she said, “There needs to be something done.”
French’s death occurred in the 113th Precinct, which recorded a nearly 7 percent increase in crime and a 58 percent spike — from 12 to 19 — in homicides last year. Her death was one of several that occurred near block parties this year.
French’s mother lived in Queens from when she was 18 to 21. French was born in her mother’s last year in Queens. Afterward, French’s mother moved with her daughter to Virginia Beach when she got remarried and later gave birth to her second daughter, who is now 18. The family relocated to North Carolina when French was a preteen, but French went back to Virginia four years ago to attend military school.
French’s mother said both she and her younger daughter were close with French. She played basketball in school. A lesbian, French also had many friends in the gay community.
“She would get in a fight every now and then … but she was very friendly,” French’s mother said.
The circumstances behind French’s death have been heartbreaking for both her mother and sister, said French’s mother, who keeps her daughter’s picture as a screensaver on her computer. She said her other daughter wears French’s clothes and uses her blankets while sleeping. French’s mother also said she had avoided telling French’s grandmother, who is in a nursing home, about her death.
French’s mother said she kept in close contact with French during her vacation in Queensï»¿, calling her multiple times a day, but in the last few days before her death, French seemed unusually busy. The last time French and her mother spoke, French said she was going to a party. When her mother called her phone the next day, there was no answer.
When French died, she had her old Virginia ID card on her instead of her North Carolina ID card, which was with her box of possessions at Job Corps, a free federal education and training program in which French was enrolled. ï»¿The NYPD called officers in Virginia who finally reached French’s mother.
“She leaves me for two months or something and she’s gone,” French’s mother said.
A detective with the NYPD told French’s mother that French may have befriended the wrong people, and French’s mother said that before her death she had heard French wore red often — a color associated with the gang the Bloods, although she had not known French to wear it while she was in North Carolina. ï»¿Other possibilities French’s mother had heard were the killing was a case of mistaken identity or a hate crime.
She said due to the possible gang involvement, French’s mother understands why people may be scared to come forward, but asks people do so to help her and other mothers like her.
“A human life has been taken,” French’s mother said. “What if it was your son or daughter?”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.