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Sister wants justice to heal

Killing of Queens Village father leaves his three sons without a devoted mentor

By Ivan Pereira and Christina Santucci

December 28, 2011

  • A framed photo of Leslie Huggins rests on Lystra Huggins' desk. Photo by Christina Santucci

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Lystra Huggins still remembers the day her mother came home with one pair of roller skates for her to share with her brother Leslie. She was 9, Leslie 10, and it was the day their family moved into a new house in Trinidad.

"He had one [skate], and I had on the other one, and we were literally skating and pushing with the other foot. And we did that around the neighborhood and we met neighbors," Lystra said.

For Lystra, that memory of her brother is one that stands out in her mind among many - even after nearly 30 years.

"Everything we did, we did together," she said. "I feel almost like a twin because we were just one year apart, so we were connected. I miss him terribly as a brother and a friend."

Ever since Leslie Huggins, 38, was murdered in his Queens Village home on Feb. 26, 2010, Lystra said she and her relatives have been struggling to come to terms with how Leslie died and the possibility that they might never know who killed him.

"That's my greatest fear," Lystra said.

Leslie moved from the Caribbean to Brooklyn in 1991 at the age of 19 by himself to find a better life, according to his sister. His nickname as a young man on Church Avenue in Brooklyn was Chubby.

He had a passion for home building and design and worked at various jobs in the construction field in Brooklyn. Leslie started out as an apprentice for a construction firm and worked his way up to being a shop steward for a local union.

"He went through the American dream," said Lystra, who moved to Brooklyn a year after Leslie.

Leslie enjoyed honing his craft, but his real goal was to have a home of his own. In 2005, his dream came true when he purchased a two-family house in Queens Village, according to Lystra.

"We were very proud of him. It was something he was saving up for a long time," she said of the home that she called a fixer-upper.

Leslie used his construction skills to improve his house.

"He did the entire basement himself," Lystra recalled. "When you walk through the basement, it feels like you are at a hotel ... It was only then that we saw the quality of his work."

Leslie had begun renovating the house's kitchen area in early 2010, but he was never able to complete the new project.

Lystra said investigators are still working to solve her brother's murder. Police told her that they believe three suspects were able to get inside Leslie's home without breaking in through the front door.

"I don't know if he opened it and the individuals attacked him," Lystra said.

The still-at-large suspects also stole valuables from a safe, as well as a cell phone and some credit cards, according to Lystra. Neither the phone nor the cards were ever used, she said.

An upstairs tenant heard a rumble inside the house but didn't think anything of the noise, and a security camera from a nearby store videotaped the suspects, but it did not get a good image of their faces, the sister said.

At one point investigators said a Rikers Island inmate was willing to provide information about the murder, but authorities believed it was a false lead, according to Lystra.

The NYPD and the precinct have declined to comment about the ongoing investigation.

"Leslie was not involved in any gang; he wasn't involved in drugs... why then? Why did they do this?" Lystra said.

In addition to his parents and four siblings, Leslie left behind three sons, Divontay, 17, Anthony, 11, and Michel, 5. The youngest and oldest sons lived with their mothers outside of New York City and Anthony split time between Leslie in Queens and his mother in Brooklyn.

Despite the long distances, Leslie would give the three boys his utmost attention and love, according to his sister. Whether it was attending an award ceremony or spending quality time with them over the weekend, Leslie made sure that he was an important part of their lives.

"When I think about him as an adult...he was a great father. I think that word resonates with who he is," Lystra said.

The sister and her other relatives have been doing their part to take care of Anthony.

During the week, Anthony travels from his Brooklyn public school to do homework at Lystra's office at Medgar Evers College. In the past, Anthony's afternoons had been spent with his father as the boy waited to be dropped off at his mother's house in Brooklyn.

"Every day they would hang out from 3:30 to 6 ... That's a bond," Lystra said.

Since his father's murder, Anthony has had trouble expressing himself at school, has problems sleeping by himself and can't watch certain things on TV.

"[Michel] knows Daddy's not there, but I think it's been hardest on Anthony," Lystra said. "You see remnants of it coming out in school ... but we get him to talk a lot about his dad. We talk about how his dad is in a better place."

Although the family has been helping the boy deal with his emotions, Lystra said she did not know if he can regain his sense of safety.

"The whole idea of security is no longer there because we have no idea who killed Leslie," she said.

Although catching the criminals could never fill the void in her heart, Lystra believes that it might bring the family a small bit of solace.

"I hope that they find the person who did this and I hope that this person feels some sort of responsibility or some sort of guilt," she said. "It is not just Leslie who is gone. Our lives were taken away as well."

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.