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Family, friends, activists gather in Woodhaven to honor anti-gay attack victim with vigil

Two weeks ago, five teenagers allegedly yelled anti-gay slurs at partygoers before chasing down and viciously beating an 18-year-old Long Island youth, who later died. But that same street where the attack occurred was eerily silent Thursday night, when more than 100 people gathered in opposition to hate crime, and to support the family of its latest victim.

The sniffing of runny noses and clacking of the elevated subway nearby were the only audible sounds as Woodhaven residents; city officials; representatives of Ecuador; members of the lesbian, gay and transgender community; and the extended family of Anthony Collao of Bethpage bent down to lay a candles next to a picture of the slain teenager.

Collao’s father stood swaying, eyes fixed on the picture of his son. He hesitated to lay down his candle.

“It’s so unfair,” said Abigail Bravo, a cousin who grew up with Collao. “It’s something like — this is what his mother and I said — we wish we would wake up, like this is a bad dream.”

Collao had just graduated high school and started working at the family ice cream store. He had planned to attend community college in September to study business, Bravo said, so he could one day start a business of his own.

“He didn’t want to work for anyone,” she said. “He always wanted to own a business like his father.”

Collao’s father is an immigrant from Equador who found prosperity as an entrepreneur.

But instead of emulating his father, Collao died in a Jamaica Hospital bed on March 14.

Five teenagers are suspected of attacking Collao: Nolis Ogando and Christopher Lozada of Ridgewood and Calvin Peitri of Woodhaven, all 17, as well as Luis Tabales and Alex Velex of Richmond Hill, both 16.

All five have been charged with gang assault and manslaughter, both as hate crimes.

“An 18-year old lost his life because someone perceived him to be gay,” said Anna Maria Archila, of Make the Road, who spoke at the vigil. “He dared to join a party organized by LGBT youth.”

Collao, who grew up in the neighborhood, had attended the party with his girlfriend.

Speaker after speaker got up to the microphone to denounce the crimes.

“It is hard to imagine what goes through someone’s mind when they decide they will go out to a party, not to have fun ... but to attack someone based on who they are,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). “It is even harder to imagine when they brag about it on Facebook.”

Quinn was referring to the fifth suspect arrested, Pietri, who allegedly boasted of the attack on the social networking site after the incident.

“We are out here far fewer times than we used to be,” she said, referring to a drop in bias crime since the 1990s. “The best thing we can do is bring justice for them. But even better is to change the climate in this city.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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