Crime Scene—1993 starts off with a bang in New York City, but what happens in the hood pretty much stays there.
Although not all of them became national news, 1993 started with a slew of high profile crimes in New York City. From a bank robbery with an innocent woman being killed by police bullets, to a bombing that could have killed thousands; the city would also see a police officer killed, large street drug crews arrested and eventually convicted and one of the worst massacres in the city’s history.
The first World Trade Center bombing was news not only nationally, but internationally as well. A truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on February 26. Allegedly, the attack was planned by a group of terrorists that included Ramzi Yousef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyard, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmad Ajaj and financed by Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.
While the attack could have killed thousands, an unfortunate six people died with more than a thousand being injured. Slightly more than a year after the bombing, in March 1994, four men were convicted of carrying out the bombing and sentenced to 200 plus years each, although later the sentences were lowered to 100 years. In the following years more convictions would come in the case which would receive media coverage throughout the investigation and subsequent trials.
The World Trade Center attack in 1993 received major media coverage for years and would dominate headlines time and time again. The investigation was as relentless as the coverage and any and every aspect was covered and/or uncovered by both law enforcement and the media. New York City, America, and its allies were appalled and angered by the lawlessness and loss of innocence lives.
In another well publicized crime, on March 1, 1993, Lebanese-born immigrant Rashid Baz fired on a van traveling across the Brooklyn Bridge with 15 Jewish students inside using a MAC-11 fully automatic pistol and a Glock 17 9mm; at some point later, a 12-gauge shotgun was recovered from the trunk of his car. Four students were shot; two seriously, Ari Halberstam, a sixteen-year-old, died four days later from a head wound, and the other student, also shot in the head, suffered permanent damage. With the violence aimed at Jewish children the story was national news for months.
While road rage was initially thought to be the cause of the shooting, Baz was found to be in possession of anti-Jewish literature as well as another semiautomatic pistol, stun gun, bulletproof vest, and two 50-round ammunition magazines. Baz pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and while his defense team presented the theory that Baz was reacting to the violent events in the Middle East a jury convicted him of second degree murder and 14 additional counts of attempted murder in New York Supreme Court on December 1, 1994. Baz was sentenced to 141 years to life in prison. His uncle, Bassam Reyati, who owned the car, was convicted of concealing evidence, and sentenced to 5 years probation and a $1,000 fine. Hilal Abd Al-Aziz Muhammad, the owner of the car repair shop where Baz hid the damage to his car, was convicted of concealing evidence and hindering prosecution and sentenced to five years probation. Another man, Albert Jeanniton, was convicted for illegally selling one of the guns to Baz.
Once again, the city and country was appalled and angered by the crime, a senseless murder of one teenager and the wounding of three others. The media coverage echoed the sense of outrage; how could anyone commit such a merciless act. In 2000, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) Mary Jo White along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation re-classified the attack as “the crimes of a terrorist,” and CBS recently aired a 20 years later story on the shooting and its aftermath.
However, another case from that year, which actually occurred prior to the first two, did not receive the national and definitely not the international coverage the other two received. Yet, the death toll matched that of the first World Trade Center bombing and surpassed the Brooklyn Bridge shooting by five. In addition, it was an up-close and personal execution of six people, four of them teenagers; shot at close range by a ruthless killer. In a crime-ridden neighborhood in the Bronx Valentine Day of 1993 would never be forgotten.
Six victims lying dead in pools of their own blood were found in a South Bronx apartment in what was called a modern day St. Valentine’s Day massacre in a comparison to the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago where seven mobsters were gunned down in cold blood. The six people, all Hispanics, ranging in age from 15 to 40, were left dead in the living room of an apartment with bullet wounds in their heads and without any signs of forced entry.
A 40-year-old woman, Julia Santana, whose apartment it was, her 17-year-old son, Edwin Santiago and 23-year-old daughter, Maria Santana, were murdered as were three other victims. 15-year-old Christopher Hernandez, 22-year-old Miguel Rivera and 17-year-old Annette Medina died a violent and frighten death. They all died by bullets to the back, head or face, either on their knees or laying down waiting, knowing it was coming; the death a gangster could expect and even accept as a part of their chosen lifestyle.
However, this vicious crime was about a small-time drug dealer’s, wannabe gangster, hurt pride; Anthony Casellas aka Ding Ding decided to murder everyone in the apartment to avenge his wife, Lourdes Serrano, even forcing two of the victims, Miguel Rivera and Annette Medina, who happen to be hanging out in the hallway, into the apartment with him and his crew of cowards—none of them stopped Anthony Casellas, the alleged triggerman, from committing, at the time, the largest mass slaying in New York City since the all-time worst, the arson deaths of 87 people in the Bronx’s Happy Land social club on March 25, 1990. They, Luis Ramos, Eliot Lopez, Luis Romero, and Edgardo Rosado either took part or stood by and watched; each would tell a different story when they provided details/self-serving lies to the police. In fact, Anthony Casellas, the principal of this despicable act, would give a two page detailed written confession that minimized his role in the murders.
His confession came as a result of an interview related to a courthouse shooting that took the life of his wife, Lourdes, who had once been a friend of Maria Santana, which is where this depraved story begins. Maria and Anthony/Ding Ding dated for years; in fact, he practically lived with her family, spending nights at their apartment, where Maria’s mother, Julia, treated him like a son. He ate at her table, broke bread with her family and may have even said grace with them, she washed his laundry and provided the love and support that’s commonplace in the hood. Friends from the street become family and life-long bonds of trust and loyalty are formed. But not in this case; even while Maria stood by him during a skid bid on Rikers Island, visiting and sending money, Ding Ding would repay her by getting with her friend, Lourdes, on the low, but a secret doesn’t stay secret when more than one person knows about it and in time Maria discovered the relationship. She cut them both off and soon after the two, Ding Ding and Lourdes, wed—a marriage built on treachery—and had a son. A relationship between a former old friend and your ex—that began when she was still believed to be a friend and he was your lover— leaves animosity and a sense of betrayal and a beef that feeds itself.
The animosity between Maria and Lourdes erupted into a fight and Maria’s brother, Edwin, stepped in and slapped Lourdes, allegedly causing her to drop her baby. While Edwin slapping Lourdes is a serious disrespect in the hood, and the baby falling is an even more egregious one, the hood is a place where if you fight one family member you’ll probably have to fight another one. That’s as much a law of the streets as a man defending his wife and child; just the way things are, if your sibling comes home with a black eye, either you better have one or whoever gave it to him better have one. So Edwin stepped up for his sister, which the street law says he should do and by right that same law says that Ding Ding had to step to him and make it right.
Now here’s the question: what would make it right …your wife was slapped and your son fell, but neither suffered serious injuries and you once lived with the person responsible, slept with his sister who he was defending and ate at his mother’s table, and all things considered, you created the beef in the first place. So how can you make it right? Do you cold bloodedly murder people you once lived with, shared food and dreams of love, laughed and probably cried with? As someone that spent his life on the streets and lived with gun in hand as well as by the law of those same streets, I couldn’t and wouldn’t violate a family that chose to love me and took me into their home and hearts.
But Ding Ding did. He murdered those who had given him shelter, food, and loyalty and it cost him his wife, Lourdes, because unlike him someone, Gilbert Ortiz, stood against wrong and attempted to murder him on the steps of a Bronx Courthouse. Gilbert Ortiz opened fire without any real chance of escape to give Ding Ding what he deserved by street law. Although Ding Ding survived, Lourdes—who was a major player in this whole sordid and repulsive story—did not. They say that payback is a bitch and perhaps in this case that’s exactly the way it should have ended. All five of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre killers were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms; Anthony Casellas, 162 years to life; Luis Ramos, 52 years to life; Eliot Lopez, 30 years to life; Luis Romero, 15 to life, and Edgardo Rosado, 15 to life.