Standing on the Woodhaven street where her brother had once lay dying, 14-year-old Karen Collao looked out at the sea of people holding flickering candles in the night and remembered her brother as one of her raisons detre, as a boy who never stopped smiling and dreamed one day of becoming an engineer.
He was the kind of person people would meet and think, where have you been all my life? said Karen, 14, of Long Island.
Anthony Collaos family and friends, legislators, civic activists [including members of Make the Road New York] and area residents crowded onto 90th Street in Woodhaven last Thursday for a vigil in remembrance of the 18-year-old who died March 14 at Jamaica Hospital after five teens allegedly chased him down after he left a party and beat him.
Calvin Pietri, 17, of Woodhaven, Luis Tabales, 15, and Alex Velez, 16, of Richmond Hill and Nolis Ogando, 17, and Christopher Lozada, 17, of Ridgewood have been charged with manslaughter and gang assault, both as hate crimes, according to the Queens District Attorneys Office. The defendants allegedly yelled anti-gay slurs when they crashed the party attended by Collao, according to police.
Collao was not gay, but the two hosts of the party were, according to friends and family.
Sadly today were here again to shine a light on the homophobic violence thats taking the lives of young people in our city, said Ana Maria Archila, executive director of Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that helped to organize the vigil. Anthony Collao lost his life because he dared join a party hosted by two LGBT youth.
Woodhaven resident Diego Sucuzhanay, whose brother, Jose, was bludgeoned to death in 2008 by two men who yelled racial and anti-gay epithets as he walked down a street with their brother Romel in Brooklyn, said the citys Ecuadorean community was standing in solidarity with the Collao family. Jose Sucuzhanay was an Ecuadorean immigrant, and Anthony Collaos family is from Ecuador.
Well be there for the family until justice is served, Diego Sucuzhanay said. Anthony Collao was born in the United States and had been living on Long Island with his family. The recent graduate of Island Trees High School in Levittown frequently made trips to Woodhaven to visit his girlfriend and had been planning to attend LaGuardia Community College to study engineering, according to his sister.
He was a young man with endless opportunities, said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). We will not allow hate to fester in our city.
Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) called Collaos death a terrible tragedy that should never have happened.
There can be no room for any racism or bigotry in this city, Ulrich said.
Councilwoman Liz Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) also attended the vigil.
What happened to Anthony could have happened to any of us, said Ejeris Dixon, a deputy director at the Anti-Violence Project, which helped to organize the event. When any of us is targeted, all of us are targeted.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who was unable to attend the vigil because he was in budget negotiations in Albany, also said he was distraught by Collao’s death. Addabbo sent a representative to the vigil.
As the vigil wrapped up and the crowd began to disperse, friends and family gathered around a poster with Anthony Collaos photo and looked at the smile they were used to seeing every day.
He was always laughing and wanted to have fun, said Steven Farias, a friend. I dont know why this happened to him.
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