Howard Beach residents demand more security at park where Karina Vetrano was murdered

Photos by Anthony Giudice/QNS

Howard Beach continues to reel from the devastating murder of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano on Aug. 2, and the community wants to know that their neighborhood is safe.

Members of the community peppered members of the NYPD, local elected officials and other law enforcement agents with questions about the ongoing investigation into Vetrano’s murder during a community meeting on Monday, Aug. 8, at St. Helen’s Church, the same place that held Vetrano’s tearful funeral only days before.

Joann Ariola, president of the Howard Beach Lindenwood Civic Association, was first to take the mic and address the officers and politicians. She was concerned with how they would work to bring better lighting and cameras — two things civic leaders have been wanting for years now — to the Gateway National Recreational Area. The residents have created a petition on the matter.

“That petition is for better lighting over on the Gateway property and in and around that park,” Ariola said. “Will there be better lighting, better measures taken for the safety of the people?”

There was a follow-up question regarding placing cameras at the entrances of the Gateway National Recreational Area, to ensure it is known who enters and exits the park.

“Part of the problem is clearly that it’s federal property inside, but there is street property outside and city property outside, so at my request the police department went out there on Friday and surveyed … and at the request of your elected officials I’ve allocated the funding for all of the cameras,” announced Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “So the money is there. Money is in the budget for it. I wish it had been there previously, but it’s there now.”

Another issue plaguing the community is that there are tall and dense weeds surrounding the area near Gateway National. Many believe these weeds played a role in Vetrano’s murder, obscuring the view of anyone who may have seen the heinous crime.

A representative from the Gateway National Recreational Area said that the type of weed in that area is difficult to get rid of. When cut down or burned, the weeds grow back fast and even thicker than before, they said. There is a $69 million project in the works to get rid of the weeds permanently.

“We want to find a way where if we are going to eradicate them, it’s going to be for good,” the representative said. “We are working on a project to do that now. It’s a $69 million project and it is moving forward.

Overall, residents just want to feel safe in their neighborhood again. A fellow jogger said she has always been weary of the weeded area.

“I’m fearful of [the weeds] even when I used to ride with my boyfriend through them on the bicycles,” said a resident who identified herself as Jaymie. “As a woman you always have to be safe. You always have to be on your toes. You can’t be with the headphones. You can’t have your hair in a ponytail. You have carry mace. You have to always be so aware, especially if you’re not running with anyone.”

Frank Priegue, a resident of Howard Beach for over 50 years, is concerned about what type of police presence will be in the area once the investigation is complete.

“What happens in a year? What happens when the only people who really remember this is someone who knew Karina?” Priegue asked. “Right now this is a hot button issue. You see police patrols everywhere, you see all these elected officials here … what happens in a year from now and this is no longer a hot button issue? That’s my concern.”

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