Neighbors on edge; they say area in which shooting occurred is getting worse

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Date: Thursday, October 23, 2008

ALBANY -- Friends knew him simply as Bailey, the Long Island kid about to graduate from UAlbany and perhaps realize his boyhood dream of being a cop.

Several of those friends from his hometown were among hundreds who, despite a chilly autumn Wednesday night, turned out to the Campus Center for a somber candlelight vigil for Richard Bailey.

The scene was in stark contrast to the day's events. Earlier that afternoon, police were out in force on horseback, in marked and unmarked cars, and walking door-to-door canvassing the area around South Lake Avenue where the 22-year-old senior sociology and criminal justice major was gunned down a few blocks from his apartment on Park Avenue.

He had just left a friend's apartment nearby, where he watched the Monday night football game between New England and Denver. He left early to finish a paper.

No arrests had been made in the case late Wednesday, and police had no suspects in the city's ninth homicide of the year.

"This is a horrible thing to happen, it shouldn't happen to anyone, and especially not Bailey," said Alison Siegel, 21, who attended Wednesday's vigil with Meghan Saccone, also 21.

They were among Bailey's classmates from Gen. Douglas MacArthur Senior High School in Levittown who huddled Wednesday night at the microphone, just beyond the small fountain, to reflect on a life cut far too short.

Both smiled broadly as they remembered the good times. Like when Bailey, a three-sport star in high school, left a dozen roses on Saccone's front porch. He also took her to his junior prom.

David Levin, 23, who said he'd known Bailey for about three years, said he was a friend one could always count on. He compared his fallen friend's life to the flickering candles that lit up the night sky.

The death of the UAlbany student has left many in this usually quiet Pine Hills neighborhood of professionals and students alike on edge.

Some say the area where Bailey was killed -- across Madison Avenue from the western border of Washington Park -- is a neighborhood in transition. Its once-graceful Victorians are now marked by peeling paint and sagging facades, many of them chopped up into multi-unit rentals populated by college students and young, working-class adults who send monthly checks to absentee landlords.

"There's no community anymore and you don't know your neighbors because it all turns over every year or so now," said Helene Brown, a clerical worker who rents a Park Avenue apartment next to where Bailey lived. She said she's been there since 1985, and has watched the quality of life erode with more graffiti, car break-ins and belligerent outsiders who seem to be predators taking the measure of the students from nearby Albany Medical College, Albany College of Pharmacy, Albany Law School and other neighboring colleges.

As police tried to establish solid leads, the wary neighbors spoke nervously about a perceived increase in crime, accelerating transience and a communal narrative that routinely revolves around who has been a victim of crime.

"This isn't the ghetto yet, but we're all shaken up and don't feel safe," said Courtney Mangan, 20, a barber who shares an apartment near where Bailey lived with a Siena and UAlbany student. She told of being accosted nearby one night by an aggressive group of teenage girls and of friends whose laptop was stolen during the day while they were recently at home in their apartment a few blocks away.

The morning he was killed, Bailey had taken an exam downstate for the New York City Police Department and stopped at his grandmother's house in Levittown on Long Island before heading back to Albany. She made him chicken wings and sent him off with barbecue sauce to share with friends watching football.

"OK, grandma," his grandmother, Judith Drolet, recalls him saying, "See you soon."

Bailey's killing was one of three crimes involving off-campus UAlbany students Monday night. In one of them, according to UAlbany, the robber struck the victim on the head, stole about $25 and fled on a bike.

In the second one, a Clifton Park woman fought off two men who tried to steal her purse.

"Thank God she's OK,'' her mother said Wednesday. "I don't even want to think about it. ... I don't know if it's related, and I hope they catch these guys for this other poor kid.

"Almost every night, I see college kids walking past here drunk and they're targets for criminals," said Jim Breen, who lives on South Lake Avenue.

As police work to solve the case, one man said believes he heard the shooting, saying there something about the loud pop he heard outside his house around 11:20 p.m. Monday night. The sound drew him to a second-story window overlooking South Lake Avenue.

The professional musician and night owl had taken to ignoring the all-hours sounds of fireworks blown up by college students outside his home on the eastern edge of the Pine Hills neighborhood.

But this time his curiosity led him to witness the chilling aftermath of a murder.

Two young men with light-colored hoodies cinched over their heads were pedaling away fast on BMX bikes. University at Albany student Richard Bailey lay crumpled on the sidewalk, with a single shot to the head.

"Those guys were in a hurry to get somewhere," said the neighbor, who asked that his name not be used out of fear of retaliation.

As he looked out the window, he also noticed a woman slowly backing up her car across the street, apparently looking for a parking spot. Her presence seemed to scare off the assailants, who did not take any of Bailey's belongings. She called 911 and police quickly arrived.

Bailey's grandmother said the young man's organs have been donated. His liver will help save the life of a young girl and a man. The NYPD also plans to present Bailey's family with an honorary police shield, she said.

As a few of the dozen votive candles placed along the sidewalk where Bailey was shot continued to flicker Wednesday, one of his neighbors, recalled an easygoing guy who befriended a stray cat on the street nicknamed Peanut.

"That cat didn't let most people come close to it, but it sure liked him," Helene Brown said.

Staff writer Paul Nelson also contributed to this report. Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at pgrondahl@timesunion.com. Staff writer Jimmy Vielkind contributed to this article.