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3-year-old Latest Victim In New York Gun Battles

July 26, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Mushrooms don’t grow in New York, they die. Nine mushrooms - street slang for bystanders who pop up during gunfights - have been killed this year, including a 3-year-old boy who was shot as he slept this morning.

″The people in the streets don’t care. To them, shooting is normal. Everybody has a gun. The law? That’s irrelevant,″ said Thomas Reppetto, head of the watchdog Citizens’ Crime Commission.

Repetto spoke Wednesday, just a few hours before Yaritimi Fruto died at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn. The girl, who celebrated her first birthday last Friday, was shot Tuesday by the same gun that killed her father.

Her shooting came two days after 9-year-old Veronica Corales was mortally wounded by a bullet to the head as she slept in her parents’ car after a trip to Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. Veronica died Tuesday at Brookdale shortly before Yaritimi arrived.

And at about 4 a.m. today, a 3-year-old whose name was withheld by police was fatally shot above the right eye as he slumbered in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Police said a gunfight had broken out between shooters outside and inside the boy’s building.

″They’re in the way, underfoot, so let’s squash ’em down. That’s the way they feel about innocent bystanders in New York City in 1990,″ said Reppetto, a former police officer.

″It’s not something recent. It’s just getting more attention. It’s becoming more common, and it will grow,″ he said.

More and more bystanders are getting shot around the city, statistics show. Reppetto cited a study by his group that showed the number of bystanders shot in New York City quadrupled between 1978 and 1988.

A University of Maryland professor of criminology, Lawrence W. Sherman, did a study that showed a jump in the slayings of bystanders every year from 1985 through 1988. The number in the first year was five; in the last, it was 12. This year’s total is running slightly ahead of that: nine in seven months, police said.

The shootings have left survivors anxious to get away from the violence which has produced record murder counts in each of the last two years, with a new high expected in 1990.

Veronica’s uncle, Willy Cosme, blamed it on the neighborhood. ″Growing up around here, other little kids often learn the bad side of life,″ he said. The Brooklyn police precinct where Veronica’s family lives is the deadliest in the city, with 97 murders in 1989.

″New York is so crazy now,″ said Berkley Tatum, whose 18-year-old son was shot to death Tuesday on his way to the grocery store. ″People have no values ... Why would anyone want to stand on a roof, fire a gun at an innocent kid in a car? It’s all over. The city is finished.″