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Cambria Heights residents defend area after 3 killings

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More than a week after three people were murdered inside their home on a quiet Cambria Heights street, police were still looking for the killers and a neighborhood was struggling to defend its reputation.

Police sources confirmed that officers in the 105th Precinct were questioning someone who was picked up during an unrelated sweep on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton the evening of June 11. But as of Wednesday, no arrests had been made in the June 9 murders of Caren Chambers, 34; her husband Larie Barnes, 39; and her sister Tisha Chambers, 21.

Thirteen-year-old Kadeen Chambers found the body of his Aunt Tisha when he returned home from a half day at PS 176 June 9. Police responding to the scene then discovered the bodies of the child's parents. All were shot once in the head.

In the suburban neighborhood where they lived - a quiet, peaceful enclave of middle-class African-American and Caribbean families - parents and children agreed that the shootings did not signify that the neighborhood was in decline.

"It's a nice quiet neighborhood," said Dwayne Castro as he picked his son up from PS 176, just two blocks from the murder scene. "Working people. Hardworking people."

Castro moved to Cambria Heights 2 1/2 years ago from Ozone Park, an area he called "much rougher."

He is not unique. Many area residents are middle-class professionals who have used their prosperity to move out of more hard scrabble areas in southeast Queens and Brooklyn. Cambria Heights is a lush grid of carefully manicured lawns that are as much the product of equal opportunity as they are of sunlight and water. Nearly everyone agreed that the crime would not diminish that.

"The dollar values of the properties are not going to change," said Janet Ellis, a seven-year resident of the community, as she pulled away from a local school with her young son. "People like that live all over."

Implicit in her comments was a suggestion that the murdered couple had been involved in some form of illegal, or at least dangerous, behavior.

Jack Thompson, president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association, was angry at newspaper reports that the crime might have been drug-related.

"They shouldn't write that unless they know what they're talking about," he said.

Newspapers, including the TimesLedger, cited police sources who indicated that a drug connection was one possible theory in the investigation. Those sources said the house had been ransacked in a targeted manner - suggesting a search for a specific item - and that marijuana had once been found in a car belonging to Caren Chambers.

Thompson said speculation of that kind gave the community a bad reputation.

But neighborhood residents were less concerned about those allegations.

"What people do in their houses, we don't see it on the streets," Ellis said. "It doesn't manifest itself."

In the PS 176 school yard, only one block from where yellow police tape and a 24-hour guard still prevent intruders from approaching the house in which the crime took place, groups of boys launched basketballs toward hoops, much as they do on every summer evening.

"We know this is a good community," said 14-year-old Kyle Williams as he dribbled. But he admitted, "it was a shock."

All the same, Williams said he was not frightened to be out shooting baskets compared to last week or last month.

"I know everyone here," he said.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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