By Gabriel Rom
Bukharian community leaders met Tuesday morning with Borough President Melinda Katz, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, and a host of other city lawmakers to discuss heightened security measures for the Forest Hills neighborhood that has been ravaged by a spate of arsons.
“This is something that we take extremely seriously and the community stands together in making sure that we find this arsonist that is out there destroying not only people’s homes, but people’s lives and people’s dreams,” Katz said at a news conference following the meeting, which took place at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills.
On Monday, the NYPD added two fire sites to the list of arsons that now stretches back to Oct. 20, which have all targeted Jewish-owned homes under construction in the heavily Bukharian neighborhood of Cord Meyer.
After Tuesday’s meeting, civic and religious leaders from the Bukharian community hugged each other and shook hands.
“Today’s meeting was a very good sign that both the community and the Police Department, Fire Department and elected officials are all interested in solving the problem at hand,” said Aron Borukhov, a Bukharian community leader.
Borukhov said community security patrols were being organized in conjunction with the police to monitor the sites. He called the patrols a “work in progress.”
According to Boyce, police had no indications that the suspect had connections to domestic terror groups but the NYPD was still struggling to determine the arsonist’s motivations.
“We have a specific community that is being targeted here,” Boyce said. “That community is behind me today, and we need their support.”
“We are going to solve this case together; it won’t just be the police,” he added. “Opening up lines of communication is key to solving this case.”
The NYPD is also offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist while the Bukharian Jewish Community announced it will offer a $50,000 reward.
“We do have Hate Crimes Task Force looking at the case,” Boyce said. “If we see those elements arise, they will take control of the case within the detectives’ bureau.”
The investigation now includes the Arson Explosive Squad and the Major Case Squad, in addition to frequent neighborhood patrols from the 112th Police Precinct.
Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison, commanding officer at the 112th Precinct, said a new command post has been set up at 112th Street and 68th Avenue.
“We are speculating about the motive, but that’s what it is, speculation,” Harrison said. “We aren’t ruling anything out. We don’t believe it is bias at this time, but everything could change.”
Harrison said police have a list of 29 buildings in the area that are currently under construction in the Cord Meyer neighborhood. She added the 112th Precinct is receiving additional units from other precincts and that buildings under construction would be the focus of the patrols.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) concluded the news conference by connecting the Bukharians’ troubled history of state-sanctioned persecution with the current crimes.
“As I was sitting at the meeting I was thinking about the conditions that brought the Bukharian community to the United States,” she said. “It’s sad that they cannot feel safe in their homes anymore, that they left a disturbing situation in the former Soviet Union and they have to face this in their new home.”
Lilianna Zulunova, who was standing outside the press scrum, whispered to herself “that’s so true, so very true.”
“I can remember the fires burning down the buildings on my street when I lived in Uzbekistan,” Zulunova said. “That’s what caused my parents to come to America.”
“Now, 29-plus years later, I see the same thing happening here: fires every week.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@