When I woke to a call from my editor on the morning of Aug. 23, I can’t say I expected him to ask me to snap shots of a murder scene. Reporting in Rockville Centre usually doesn’t involve these kinds of cases.
But as soon as he asked, I already had a hunch as to where the death took place — didn’t know how, or why, but I knew a bridge was involved.
The Bridge. How many times have I heard these words said with meaningful inflection? During my South Side Middle School years, it was spoken of in hushed tones in the hallways and at the lunch table while plans were made to sneak Bailey’s from some unsuspecting mom’s liquor cabinet. In high school, the cool kids would dismiss it, turn it to a subject of derision — but everybody knew that come nightfall every Friday, the flasks would be out in full force.
Rockville Centre has two major underage drinking hotspots colloquially called “the Bridge.” One of these spans Peninsula Blvd., connecting N. Village Ave. with Hempstead Lake State Park. The other, crossing Merrick Road by Mill River Park, we know all too well now.
Teens gather there at night, in the bushes by the side of the road, where dim light makes it difficult to spot them. There, they drink, sometimes do drugs, occasionally graffiti, and generally engage in behaviors their parents often pretend their kids would never be involved in.
I’ve known about the Bridge since I was in sixth grade, in 2001. So why is it that, until now, nothing has been done?
This is certainly not an issue that has consistently been ignored. Every once in a while, an incident occurs and the town flares up. The Roxen Road assault case from two years ago is a perfect example: neighbors called neighbors, residents flooded the Village Board meeting, and Mayor Murray wrote a Letter to the Editor of this paper claiming that he was “infuriated that such a thing could happen in our village.”
But apparently too few of us were infuriated enough to take measures that could have prevented what happened to Lauren Daverin-Gresham two weeks ago.
The facts on the murder of Daverin-Gresham are still not in. But the facts about the Bridge have been on our radar for years. Why haven’t we done anything?
Maybe that question is irrelevant now. But it’s time to do something. And the village has indeed made steps. Just days after the crime, much of the brush around the bridge had been cleared up and the area was being power washed under the watchful eye of Fire Chief John Thorp, and the mayor has promised to install lighting to make the area even harder to hide in. But why didn’t that happen sooner?
It’s time for Rockville Centre to take preventative measures instead of coming late to clean the scene of a crime. The cleanup is a start — both bridges should indeed remain well lit, cleaned and occasionally patrolled. And when the drinking teens inevitably scurry off to another spot — and the public inevitably learns about said spot days later — the same sort of action should be taken.
But it doesn’t stop there. It stops when the youth of this town have a place to go that isn’t some unknowing parent’s basement or a bridge by a dark park.
This, too, is an age-old problem. When I was in middle school here, we had few options for weekend evening entertainment: the movie theater, the bowling alley, and loitering by Starbucks. Now that my youngest brother is 15, he’s told me about the options he has: the movie theater, the bowling alley, and Starbucks.
Where is our bookshop — you know, the one like Huntington’s Book Revue, with events and food and lots of space? Where’s our independent coffee shop — you know, the one that has enough room to hang out in, not just to walk through? Where is the incentive for places like this to move into Rockville Centre — you know, the places that aren’t just new restaurants and bars?
I don’t know. But I do know that the mayor has been extremely successful in bringing in lots of grant money for sports complexes and parks. Those are great assets for our kids during the day. But maybe a grant to secure a place for teens to gather at night wouldn’t be such a bad thing?
This isn’t a novel idea. The Rockville Centre Youth Council and Rockville Centre Lanes have recently teamed up to create a space within the bowling alley intended to allow teens to hang out and grab a cup of coffee or a snack. It’s a big step forward.
Now it’s time for the village and its residents to work together to take an even bigger step. But we can only take the right step if we remember why we’re taking it.