The Woodlawn Heights section of the Bronx is now seen as a danger area after dark by many residents.
A string of vicious assaults along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, Katonah Avenue, has spiked concern among local residents.
“I’d definitely think twice about walking down Katonah [Ave.], particularly at nighttime,” says Tara Mahon, an Irish-American student. “With everything that has gone on, I’d much rather wait for a cab.”
Órla Heaney (21) – a student from Co. Armagh – says, “Though I feel safer among the Irish, I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking down Katonah Ave.”
The avenue, which features a number of bars, delicatessens, pizzerias and restaurants, caters to a largely Irish community. Its minimal police presence and proximity to the expansive, dimly-lit Van Cortlandt Park makes it a target for potential criminals.
Órla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center, believes that the number of police “is extremely inadequate in Woodlawn, and it seems the only people who have gotten this message and acted on it are these opportunistic criminals and scumbags. Sadly, this will probably continue to get worse as long as the police are not present to patrol and protect the Woodlawn community and its residents.”
Recently, Alisha Jordan (20) – a young immigrant from Co. Meath – suffered a brutal assault from a man standing outside a bank on Katonah Ave, in the early hours of July 14. Afterwards, her attacker fled into the park. In an interview with the Irish Voice’s Molly Muldoon, Jordan recalls thinking that her assailant was “just another weirdo on drugs or whatever.”
“I was so close to being home,” said Jordan. “I had walked home plenty of times before this. Needless to say I have not since.”
On August 21, 2011, Paul Caldwell – a 37-year-old immigrant from Co. Down – underwent a double cornea transplant and reconstructive surgery after his attacker threw him to the ground and kicked him in the face.
The incident occurred near 241st Street at approximately 3:45 a.m. By the time an ambulance had arrived, Caldwell’s attacker had fled into the park.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” said Caldwell to the Irish Voice’s April Drew. “I haven’t an enemy in the world and can’t understand how this could happen to me.”
On July 18, 2010, Dublin-native and father-of-two Barry McCormack (36) endured four brain surgeries and months of rehabilitation after his attacker punched him in the head.
His wife Cheryl, in an interview with IrishCentral, recalled hearing the “banging noise of [Barry’s] head on the concrete.”
In deliberation of the recent violence, many residents concede that Katonah Ave. cannot defend itself unaided.
“People are reluctant to report these incidents, particularly if they are undocumented,” says Kelleher. “Because of this, crime statistics for the area remain – inaccurately – low, and does nothing to make a justifiable case for increased police protection.
“While it is always best if the victim reports the incident themselves to the local precinct, we would urge people to contact us at the Aisling Irish Community Center if they are reluctant to report a mugging or assault.”
She adds that “nobody should walk home at night if out socializing, whether they are alone or with friends, or regardless of how close they are to their destination. It is now safe to assume that somebody is lurking around the corner watching and waiting to pounce on their next victim.”