2008-07-25 / Front Page

Tragedy Also Strikes The Innocent

By Nicholas Briano

Picture this. You're 18 years old; you just graduated from high school and work hard at two summer jobs so you'll have some money when you begin college in the fall.

Patrick Hernandez is pictured in a recent high school football photo. He became the latest teenage victim of Far Rockaway's gun violence problems.
Then, a rival jumps out of a car with a shotgun, and everything you know and love in life flashes before your eyes in that split second before you die.

"What now!" That's the last thing you ever hear before a shotgun blast is fired straight into your chest with such velocity that you're knocked backwards, eventually finding yourself in the arms of your younger brother, who is crying and screaming for you to stay alive as your blood runs out into the Rockaway gutter.

Picture yourself as Patrick Hernandez, a gifted honor student and Far Rockaway High School alum. A football star who always did his best to walk away from trouble; the type of kid who listened and followed his parents' advice and direction.

His parents' advice and their formula for survival on the streets of Far Rockaway, as well as for success, was to stay off the streets, out of trouble and away from gangs.

He tried to take that advice and still wound up on the sidewalk, his mother, Elizabeth, told The Wave this week.

The Hernandez murder was far from the norm in Rockaway, and in New York City as a whole, where both the victim and the perpetrator are most often criminals.

Hernandez was, by all accounts from his parents, his coaches, his teachers and his guidance counselor, a role model for other students.

Hernandez worked with the community cleaning up the beaches. He held another job, in the evening, at Victoria's Secret. He tutored kids in his neighborhood, played football and had a 3.8 grade point average, even graduating six months early.

He didn't have time to hang out on the streets, buy guns or join gangs, his mother, still in shock over her son's murder, said.

"He always kept busy," she said. "He was going to go to SUNY Cortland to study philosophy. He was simply a lovable boy."

As a result, when his family found out what had happened it was devastating, tragic, and a profound loss of something positive in this too-often negative community. It left two questions: who and why?

"Pat was a role model," his grandmother, Shirley Hayes said. "He was such a sweet child; a good life was taken from us."

Hernandez was going to begin college at the State University at Cortland in upstate New York this fall, something Hayes said he was excited and proud about.

"He always had a smile on his face," she said. "His parents raised him right and were always on top of him."

She added that Patrick was the model for success in the community. He made all the right choices and always respected his parents' guidance.

Hayes says Hernandez and his 16 - year-old brother, Ralphfael, were working for the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), participating in a beach cleanup during the early morning hours of July 10 and wrapped up around 10:30 a.m.

The two brothers were walking home from the beach when Karon Lenihan, 17, who was also working with RDRC, allegedly jumped out of a gray Nissan Maxima and shot Hernandez dead shortly before 11 a.m. Hernandez was coming home to get ready to go back to work in the afternoon.

Police have speculated that the two boys were once rivals in school and more recently at work, and that the attack was sparked by Lenihan's jealously of Hernandez, who seemingly had everything going right in his life. Police said after Lenihan's arrest, that rivalry had been going on since grade school and continued at Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway.

Hernandez's father, James, says the family is heartbroken and helpless to understand why someone would want to hurt their son.

"It is just madness," he said. "We are hurt and broken as a family."

Hayes also can't understand why jealousy would lead to one teenager taking another human life.

"All the kids looked up to him and wanted to be like him," she said. "That is why this is such a blow to us, that a sweet child like him was taken from us."

Hayes says that she still remembers the graduation party and him telling her how excited he was to attend college in the fall.

"I'm very upset he didn't get to go to college and live his dream," she said.

She described him as a loving person who always took care of the people around him. The family knew his friends and knew that there was no way he could ever be involved in something like a gang.

Hayes, who came to The Wave office accompanied by Pastor Barrielevia Evans of Sayahword Ministries in Far Rockaway, says she wants the killer to be put behind bars for life. Both of them called for stronger gun laws that would specifically ban the type of shotgun that was used to kill Hernandez.

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