BY DEREK SIMONS
A cardboard box protected a makeshift memorial of more than 50 candles from the gusting wind today. Mourners arrived in a steady stream on Monday to light even more and to write messages on the box in memory of Victor Zapata, who was shot shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday.
The incident occurred during a dispute with a group of unidentified males in the open area of the Wyckoff Gardens housing complex in Brooklyn. Zapata, nicknamed “Macho,” was shot once in the head and multiple times in the torso, according to New York Police Department spokesperson, Lt. John Grimpel.
The 28-year-old Puerto Rican victim was the father of three: Victor is 14, Kayla is 10 and the youngest, Skyla Marie, just 6 weeks old.
Kayla left her dedication on the upper-left hand flap of the box.
“Have a good/better life where you R. Daddy – Love, Kayla.”
She drew a heart next to her name. Today is Kayla’s birthday.
Skyla Marie’s mother, Kashavi Frances, said Zapata really loved his newborn daughter. Frances was the first family member to identify his body at Long Island College Hospital.
“He had the best sense of humor,” Frances said. “He had a warm heart.”
Police said they found five 40-caliber shells at the scene, but several people said they thought they heard close to a dozen shots fired.
Frances’ half sister Celeste Diaz heard the barrage from her apartment at 272 Wyckoff St., and described them as “very loud.” Like many others, she rushed downstairs and went outside to see what had happened.
Zapata’s friend Charles, who preferred not to give his last name, arrived before Diaz.
“He was lying on his back,” Charles said, indicating a position with one hand curled up on his chest. “His eyes were open.”
Charles described how Zapata had helped him and many others through tough times in the past by offering food or even a place to sleep. But Charles said he hasn’t been able to sleep since the incident.
Visible on the memorial box were a couple dozen messages: “There’s always love 4 thugs! 1 love – Streets,” read one, and another, “RIP Souljah.”
Close by was a plastic bag hanging on the fence holding wads of blood-stained paper towels. It was raining when Zapata was killed, but family and friends still wanted to clean up the blood.
“If you needed something, he was there for you,” said Marlina Sanchez, a friend of Zapata’s who said they had grown up together in the apartment complex. Zapata had moved to 281 Lincoln Place, near the Grand Army Plaza, but continued to socialize at the gardens, she said, sitting out late into the night with his friends.
“He was our protector,” she said. Others said he used to chase away drug gangs from other neighborhoods.
Zapata had been arrested six times in the past, according to Grimpel: four for 1st degree assault, one for 1st degree robbery and one for possession of controlled substances. Friends insisted he was a good man who kept drug gangs from other neighborhoods out of the gardens.
Diaz said she was present when Zapata was shot in the face and neck last year inside the building where she lived. He still had a bullet in him from that incident, she said.
Another shooting in the building at 272 Wyckoff St. occurred in August 2008 when Elizabeth Acevedo was killed in her wheelchair while sitting on the 13th floor. Reward posters are still posted in the entrance hall both there and in the sister building at 185 Nevins St.
Zapata is also survived by his mother, Esther Santos, four brothers and two sisters.
Viewing is from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. this Thursday through Sunday at the Donnelly & Purcell Funeral home, 203 Euclid Ave. Zapata’s funeral will be held Monday, Oct. 5, at the Cypress Hills Cemetery.
Photos – Derek Simons