2 Troubled Brothers Are Reunited, Then Torn Apart by an Errant Bullet
By MICHAEL WILSON - NEW YORK TIMES
Shane Van Williams was born in 1991; his brother Sean followed three years later, with a second brother born in between. They were the sons of a no-nonsense correction officer named Roger Van Williams, who worked in state prisons.
The boys lived with Mr. Van Williams and their mother, Kathleen, in an apartment on the sixth floor of one of the 20 buildings that make up the sprawling Rochdale Village in Queens, a Mitchell-Lama co-op that was the country’s largest when it opened in 1963. The boys grew up there, bounding in and out of elevators and stairwells on the way to and from the sixth floor. Their neighbor, Fred, now 77, teased them, one for his nice shoes and the other for his weight.
One brother “grabs the shoes, and the other guy grabs the breakfast,” he recalled.
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The parents’ marriage ended, and Mr. Van Williams moved out, neighbors and a relative said. He left his job with the state in 1996 and joined the New York City Correction Department, where he would rise in the ranks to the title of captain.
The boys stayed at Rochdale Village, living with their mother.
“The younger guy would come home from junior high school,” said Fred, who declined to give his last name. “He’d bang on the door. The kids inside wouldn’t let him in. Bang! Bang! Bang!”
At some point, the mother and the middle boy moved out, and Mr. Van Williams moved back in with his eldest and youngest sons. Then he left, too, leaving Shane and Sean behind.
“They’ve been banging on the door ever since,” Fred said.
Shane was arrested several times, for minor offenses; by 2010, he had moved on to more serious crimes.
On Sept. 24 of that year, he and three others approached a man in the Chinatown neighborhood in Flushing, Queens, and asked for the time. When the man pulled out his iPhone to check, the group of four beat him up, hitting him in the face before fleeing with the device. Later that night, they did the same thing to a second victim.
Shane was arrested that night, and five months later, he pleaded guilty to attempted robbery, and was sentenced to a year in jail, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.
His incarceration would presumably have put him close to his father, by then an officer at the Rikers Island jail complex, but contact between staff and locked-up family members is forbidden.
Shane was released, and in 2012 he pleaded guilty to another robbery that occurred shortly after the first two, in the hallway of a neighboring building in Rochdale Village. Shane and another person beat a man — Shane used a table leg — and pulled his pants off, taking cash and a passport from the pockets, according to a criminal complaint. He pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Sean also had troubles — his arrest record is sealed — but seemed to be on a new course, said an 18-year-old neighbor who said he spoke with him often.
“He started out being not the greatest kid,” the neighbor said, “but he started changing himself. He had a kid and a job and he started growing up.”
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Continue reading the main storyOf the middle brother, the least is known. Fred, the neighbor, said he had heard that the young man had graduated from high school and had gone on to John Jay College. Indeed, his name appears on the dean’s list in 2011-12.
The oldest brother, Shane, was released from prison last year, but violated his parole. He got out again last month, on Jan. 16.
Nine days later, around 11:15 p.m., Shane entered the building at Rochdale Village and saw Sean fighting with Rendell Cassimy, 24. Shane pulled out a pistol and fired, the police said.
The bullet struck Mr. Cassimy. “He then goes over and puts an additional round in Mr. Cassimy, causing his demise,” Robert K. Boyce, chief of detectives, said this week.
When the shooting stopped, a second body lay in the lobby. It was Sean, struck in the head by his brother’s bullet that had apparently passed through Mr. Cassimy first, the police said.
Shane fled, and remains at large. Sean died five days later.
The police had broken through the door after the shooting, and it was later replaced with a new one, suddenly the shiniest door on the hall.