New York City

‘This Is a Place Where Dreams Die': Dad Condemns Newburgh Shooting

Two men were arrested on charges of tampering with physical evidence in connection with the shooting

What to Know

  • Two women were killed at a Halloween party in Newburgh over the weekend
  • The women were shot when someone opened fire after what may have been some sort of dispute, police said
  • A vigil for the women was planned Monday afternoon

The father of one of two young women shot to death at a Halloween party in upstate New York over the weekend fought back tears as he condemned the violence that has long plagued his Orange County city. 

"This is Newburgh, everybody fires a gun," Miguel Cruz said Sunday, hours after his 20-year-old daughter Tabitha was gunned down at an apartment party along with 18-year-old Omani Free. "They don't believe in nothing. This is a place where dreams die. And my dream just died." 

Tabitha Cruz and Free were standing near the DJ booth at the party when gunfire erupted around 1 a.m. Sunday. Five other people were wounded in the shooting, but they were all expected to survive. Police said some sort of dispute broke out shortly before the shooting.

Authorities said that they are looking for 17-year-old Nija A. Johnson of Newburgh in the case. He's wanted on murder charges.

Two of the shooting's survivors, Odalis Lugo and Gelissa Watson, told NBC 4 New York that people were fighting before the shooting. Watson said that as soon as shots rang out Free, her cousin, was on top of her. 

I grabbed her started walking to the door and i just heard gunshots and i just started ducking," she said. "I looked next to me and my cousin was on my legs next to me barely moving, she was trying to hold me, I couldn't move my arm."

Watson -- who said that the party was only the second time she'd ever gone out -- was hit twice in the arm in the gunfire. Lugo, meanwhile was grazed. 

"I'm going to have holes in my arm for the rest of my life, I guess," she said. "The doctor says I'm lucky because it didn't hit a nerve."

Two men, 21-year-old Rainier Hamilton and 20-year-old Tyson Oliveira, were arrested hours later on charges of tampering with physical evidence. Hamilton is also charged with criminal possession of a weapon. Both men were arraigned Monday in city court and ordered held on $50,000 bail. Their assigned lawyers couldn't be reached for comment. 

Free was a high school senior at Newburgh Free Academy and had made a last-minute decision to go to the party, about five blocks from her home, with a friend, said her mother, Rhonda Valentine-Free. 

Valentine-Free said she had left home to go to her own social engagement and didn't know her daughter had decided to go to the party. She said she and her husband first got word that something had happened when a friend of their 15-year-old son who had been at the party called to say their daughter had been shot. She said they went to a hospital, where their daughter died hours later.

"She was a sweet girl," Valentine-Free said. "She was my chocolate baby."

She said her daughter had gone to a party in another section of the building before without incident.

Students at Newburgh Free Academy joined others in the community Monday to remember the two women, one of whom was a senior at the school. 

Anyone with information on Johnson's whereabouts or other information on the shootings is asked to call the New York state Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-866-313-TIPS.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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