Police arrest four in connection with the murder of Reyna Aguirre-Alonso.
Editor's Note: This story is an update to the piece we ran in the Feb. 1 issue. Check our news & political blog, PhillyNow, for updates as we follow developments in this story.
Following a weekslong manhunt, the Philadelphia Police Department—working in conjunction with the FBI and NYPD—captured 22-year-old fugitive Jorge “J-Rock” Aldea in New York City last Friday. A notorious North Philly thug with a long rap sheet, Aldea was wanted on suspicion of killing rival drug dealer Luis Chevere in November. Until Tuesday, Aldea was considered the prime suspect in last week’s brazen shooting death of Kensington bodega clerk Reyna Aguirre-Alonso, who police say witnessed Chevere’s murder outside her store.
However, on Tuesday evening, the PPD announced the arrest of three others: Shawn Poindexter, 17, Raymond Soto, 20, and Eliana Vazquez, 19, all of North Philly. Police say Aldea ordered the hit (to be staged as a robbery) on Aguirre-Alonso because she witnessed Chevere's murder, and that Poindexter is the alleged shooter. According to police, Soto is believed to have provided the murder weapon, and Vazquez, who is Aldea's girlfriend, drove the getaway car. All four are charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, intimidation and other related offenses. Aldea is scheduled to be extradited to Philadelphia on Friday.
Police declined further comment.
The cops may have her killers, but friends and neighbors of Aguirre-Alonso insist that in the weeks before her death, cops put the 29-year-old’s life at risk by making it obvious to everyone on her violence-plagued Badlands block that she was being questioned as a witness to Chevere’s murder.
Friday afternoon, before news broke of Aldea’s arrest, Mayor Nutter’s press secretary, Mark McDonald, addressed that allegation. “There are a number of different stories out there,” McDonald told a local newspaper, saying that the idea of blaming the PPD for putting Aguirre-Alonso in danger is “an easy one to grasp, particularly if you don’t like police.”
But those close to Aguirre-Alonso say the idea is easy to grasp because it’s true.
“Fuck Mark McDonald, fuck him. He’s full of shit,” seethes Philly anti-crime activist Greg Bucceroni, 48, who works with East Division Crime Victim Services.
“I’m not anti-police. I love police. But they mishandled this situation and a woman is dead,” says Bucceroni. “If they had gone there more discreet and they were more caring of her safety, there’s a high probability she’d still be alive today.”
Bucceroni is taking Aguirre-Alonso’s death especially hard because he’s the one who recruited her into the city’s “See Something, Say Something” program.
For the past two years, he’d been coming into her store at the corner of Mutter and Westmoreland streets, commiserating with her about the dealers openly selling heroin, cocaine and other drugs on the corner. A few months ago, Bucceroni encouraged her to report the drug trade to 911. He says she was watching the corner from her apartment above the bodega in November when she saw Chevere get shot.
On MLK Day, a week before her death, Bucceroni says he was outside her store cleaning away some trash when Aguirre-Alonso whispered to him that the PPD had hauled her in for questioning against her will. “She said the drug dealers thought she was snitching,” says Bucceroni. “She felt uneasy. The cops were going door to door [investigating Chevere’s murder], so everybody’s watching everybody to see who’s saying what. I told her, ‘You gotta be careful.’”
During an emotional prayer vigil for Aguirre-Alonso outside the bodega last Wednesday, two days after she was shot four times in the torso while working at the store, anger was directed at the cops on hand. “This is your fault!,” an older man with a beret and ponytail barked at officers, who didn’t reply.
Aguirre-Alonso’s close friend “Cookie,” who requested anonymity after claiming to receive threats for talking to the press about her murder, scowled at the cops. “I don’t know why they didn’t protect her,” she fumed. Several others at the vigil complained that the PPD “set her up” or “left her out here to be murdered.”
Early Saturday morning, with the news of Aldea’s arrest already circulating on the block, Cookie returned to her Mutter Street row house—she’d stayed away for a few days out of fear that Aldea, who residents say had long terrorized the area, might come back.
Cookie recalled two occasions in the weeks before Aguirre-Alonso’s death when detectives came to the block to question the store clerk. She says the first time, a royal blue sedan pulled up to the corner in the middle of the day and two white men wearing trenchcoats went into the store to speak to her, in full view of dealers and other residents.
The second time, about three weeks ago, Cookie says the same detectives came to the store at 8 a.m., before it was open, banged on the metal grate, then stood in the middle of the street and yelled up to her apartment.
“She opened the window and they said ‘Ma’am, we need for you to come down here to ask you a few questions,’” Cookie recalls.
“She came downstairs and they told her, very loudly, ‘You have to come with us right now.’ And then they took her away, and everyone on the block saw it.”
It’s inevitable Torain will catch flak as a hip-hop turncoat, but that doesn’t seem to faze him. “I don’t give a fuck what anyone says about me,” he says. But Torain’s got plenty of fans and followers, too. Maybe his voice—deeply embedded in popular youth culture, rather than critical from afar—can turn the tide against “stop snitching” in a way that others haven’t.