I saw the yellow crime scene tape stretched out around the men’s clothing store on Fifth Avenue this morning, but I didn’t think anything serious had happened.
People put up that tape for just about anything. Maybe there was wet paint in the vicinity. Maybe the store window might have broken and shattered glass was littering the sidewalk.
Whatever it was, I was sure it was something minor.
I never thought the owner—a man I have often spoken with--had been shot dead. It wasn’t glass that was shattered here today. It was a man’s life.
The New York Daily News reported that Mohammed Gebeli, 65, was shot in the neck at Valentino Fashion Inc. on Fifth Avenue and 77th Street. He was taken to Lutheran Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
I still can’t believe this. I’ve shopped at this store; I’ve spoken with Mohammed Gebeli, had those kind of softball conversations that pass between merchants and their customers. And now he’s dead.
I didn’t know this man well at all, but I do know that he deserved better much better than this. An animal deserves better than this.
He worked hard to keep his business going, was cordial to his customers. It’s appalling to think of him staring down the barrel of a gun and bleeding his life away on the floor of his shop.
You read these stories all the time in the paper. A hard working storeowner is gunned down in his business, that’s standard tabloid fare. But I never knew any of the victims—until today.
I stood across the street with a handful of people and watched our local city councilman speak to a cop in a patrol car.
A young woman who filled me in on what had happened turned out to be a reporter. She thanked me after we were done speaking and now I wonder if she’ll be quoting me in her story.
I have no problem with this. As a former police reporter I know how hard it can be to get any kind of information about a murder victim. Family and friends are often reluctant to speak and sometimes they get angry with you for intruding upon their privacy at such a painful time.
It’s just that I barely knew the man, so there is little I could do except express my shock and disbelief.
As I stood on the other side of Fifth Avenue, I thought of the old movie line where the cop says to the crowd of gawkers, “Nothing to see here, folks; show’s over.”
And that’s so true. There really was nothing to see here. The victim’s body had been removed and any evidence gathering was being done inside. And unlike the movies, the killer wouldn’t be returning to the scene of this crime.
Yet we lingered there expecting…what exactly? Answers, perhaps. Maybe we needed something to make us feel safe, something to tell us that this could never happen to us or to anyone we love in a million years. And, speaking in the broadest possible terms, it was an event, something out of the ordinary.
I wish I had known Mohammed Gebeli better. I wish I had shopped in his store more often, shot the breeze with him about sports, politics and life in general.
We were from different cultures, obviously, but that means so little in the day-to-day affairs of life. And it’s totally meaningless now.
I pray for his family and I hope something very bad happens to his killer.
But most of all I wish that this terrible incident had never occurred, that Mohammed Gebeli was still alive and still at work, and that the yellow crime scene tape had never been stretched out in front of his store.