Jeremy Portnoy, 6, of East Meadow, was sitting on the sidewalk outside his grandparents’ house in Kew Gardens, Queens, on Oct. 10 when a 35-year-old homeless man approach-ed him and, unprovoked, slammed his head on the concrete, according to police reports.
The attack left Jeremy with a brain hemorrhage, facial contusions, two skull fractures and a collapsed lung. He spent the weekend in the intensive care unit of Cohen Children’s Medical Center before he was sent home on Oct. 13.
The suspect, Laurence Gendreau, was caught on surveillance video fleeing the scene before he was arrested. He was arraigned on Oct. 25 in Queens Supreme Court, and Judge Peter Vallone ordered a psychiatric evaluation before his next appearance on Nov. 26.
Jeremy’s father, Yaakov Portnoy, 36, was still devastated when he spoke with the Herald last week. He no longer wanted to talk about the assault, he said, but instead focused on his son’s recovery and the “overwhelming” support of the East Meadow community.
“Everybody was involved in his healing,” Portnoy said. “I can’t even put into words how they have reacted. It’s unreal.”
Portnoy has been updating family members, friends and neighbors on Facebook with posts about Jeremy’s recovery. Dozens have commented, offering the boy refua shlema, a Hebrew prayer for a complete and speedy recovery.
Jeremy and his family are part of an Orthodox Jewish congregation on Prospect Avenue called Congregation Shaarei Zedek of East Meadow. They moved from Kew Gardens to East Meadow four years ago with four other Orthodox families who wanted to start a congregation in a small hamlet on suburban Long Island.
“I didn’t even know how amazing the community was until this unfortunate event,” his father said.
In addition to the congregation, support for Jeremy also came from residents from other Jewish organizations, Christian churches and community groups. Roughly 50 members of the community donated to a collection in his name to buy gifts to entertain him while he recovers.
Jeremy is a big fan of sports, and often plays football or baseball with his brothers Chaim, 11, and Yehuda Lieb, 8. He also has two younger siblings, Donny, 3, and Shirley, 1.
“He has to sit and recover, which is hard when you’re 6 and everyone else is running around,” Yaakov said.
Community members bought Jeremy a Play Station 4 and video games to keep him occupied. “They got us some activities to do while he’s recovering to keep him calm, before he’s running around like a normal 6-year-old,” his father said. “He likes video games, so now he sits and plays video games while the fractures are healing.”
Gendreau was charged with attempted murder, assault, harassment and endangering a child, according to court records. “Obviously it’s an awful, awful set of circumstances for everybody involved,” said his defense attorney, Kevin O’Donnell.
Gendreau is receiving psychiatric treatment and is on medication, O’Donnell said. “I almost want to say that the pharmaceutical industry has a finger on this case too, because he just couldn’t afford his meds,” he said. “. . . I just hope that little boy is OK.”
Yaakov said he didn’t know how long it would take for Jeremy to fully heal, but he is going to a doctor for regular check-ups. When his father spoke to the Herald, he was preparing to take him to the hospital for an MRI.
He is still receiving prayers and messages from members of the community. “Just living in East Meadow is amazing, and this just confirms that feeling,” Portnoy said. “Some of the people never even met us, but they heard the story and wanted to help. Everyone from all walks of life has been a part of this.”