At approximately 7:30 p.m. June 20, local shoppers at Roosevelt Field Mall ran for cover as shots were fired near the second floor food court. According to Detective John LaVelle of Nassau County's 3rd Squad, Maurice Burkes, 29, of Hempstead allegedly verbally confronted an 18-year-old male from Lynbrook and two of his friends as the 18-year-old talked to a relative on his cell phone.
Burkes, according to police reports, took exception to something the victim said while on the phone and followed the victim and his friends to the upper level food court where he pulled a defaced 9mm handgun from his waistband, aimed it directly at the victim's head and pulled the trigger.
"Fortunately for the victim, the safety mechanism was on the gun," Det./Sgt. Giambrone of the county's 3rd Squad said during a press conference last Friday at police headquarters. "Burkes assumed that the gentleman on the phone was talking about him with whomever he was speaking to. He accused the victim of saying something about him. The victim immediately told Burkes he wasn't speaking about him and they shook hands and parted ways."
Burkes first approached the victims in front of Foot Locker on the mall's first level. Once they shook hands and parted ways, the victims headed upstairs to the food court. Unbeknownst to them, Burkes followed them, approached them again and accused them of being "tough guys."
Just before the victims attempted to turn and walk away, Burkes pulled the gun out, pointed it at the victim and attempted to pull the trigger. According to Giambrone, when Burkes realized the gun's safety was on, he pulled the gun back to him and released the safety.
"The three subjects began fleeing in different directions on foot when Burkes took aim onto the victim that had the cellphone and fired one round, from approximately 15 to 20 feet away, and struck the individual in the right ankle," he said.
The victim then ran into the Great Earth Vitamin store where Burkes followed him and asked if he had been shot. The victim, in fear again, ran into another store where he was grabbed by some shoppers walking by and an off-duty EMT who treated his injury.
Uniformed store security personnel and witnesses, along with an off-duty Nassau County corrections officer, followed Burkes to the lower concourse where responding Third Precinct Police Officer Neil Kinsella apprehended Burkes approximately 10 minutes after the incident. Police recovered the weapon inside the vitamin store where the subject had allegedly deposited it on a counter.
"Burkes attempted to hand the clerk of the vitamin store the gun. When she refused, he placed it on a desk behind her and then slowly walked out of the store down past the second floor and was followed by mall security and an off-duty Nassau County corrections officer," Giambrone said. "He was apprehended on the lower level of the mall."
According to Giambrone, the victim and his friends and the subject do not know each other and it is unknown at this time what the subject thought he heard the victim say on the cell phone.
"The victim was talking to a relative about going to the mall to find sneakers and he couldn't find what he was looking for," Giambrone said. "The victim said he has no idea why Burkes would target him." Although Burkes is African-American and the victim and his friends are Caucasian, police do not believe the incident was racially motivated.
The victim was transported to Winthrop-University Hospital where he was admitted in stable condition.
Burkes, who was alone at the mall, has an extensive arrest record for selling drugs and police don't believe at this time that he has any history of mental illness. According to Giambrone, it is, however, possible that Burkes was under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident.
The subject has been charged with second-degree attempted murder, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal use of a firearm, first-degree assault and resisting arrest. He was arraigned last Friday in First District Court.