Two men were shot, one fatally, during a home invasion early Sunday morning inside their East Moriches Boulevard house in Eastport, raising questions and concerns throughout the normally tranquil hamlet.
Francisco Pirir, 45, was killed by a shotgun blast to the face, and another man, his uncle, was struck in the hand with several shotgun pellets after two masked men forcibly entered their home at about 3:25 a.m., according to Suffolk County Police. The robbers blasted the door to the small rental home off its hinges, then entered and demanded money from the tenants, all of whom were migrant workers from South America.
The pair of robbers, each thin and about 5 feet 10 inches tall, escaped on foot and remain at large after one fatally shot Mr. Pirir. Suffolk County Police declined to say what, if anything, was taken from the home. A spokeswoman for the department said that because it’s a homicide investigation, no further information will be released until an arrest is made.
The murder and home invasion-style robbery caused a stir in the small hamlet that sits on the border of Southampton and Brookhaven towns, with many neighbors surprised that such an incident would occur in the sleepy community of fewer than 2,000 people.
“You don’t expect someone to get shot a couple hundred feet from your house,” said Tom Russell, who lives on Mott Place, just south of the train tracks and from where the shooting took place. “Yeah, I’m concerned, but what are you gonna do?”
Suffolk County Police Lieutenant Jack Fitzpatrick, the commander of the unit’s homicide squad, said seven men were living in the rental home at the time, although, according to Brookhaven town records, there is no rental permit on file for the property. Neighbors said they would regularly see the men dropped off by landscaping companies at the end of many work days.
The 0.8-acre property on which the rental house sits runs from Montauk Highway south to the railroad tracks, and includes two houses and a storefront, according to Brookhaven Town’s 2013-14 tax roles. The listed owners are Gregory and Mary Boussios of Deer Park, according to town records, and neither could be immediately reached for comment.
The property owners have not been issued code violations in the past, according to Kevin Molloy, a spokesman for Brookhaven Town, and there is no rental permit on file. He added that town building inspectors were dispatched to the property on Wednesday morning.
Some neighbors, including Nick Haff, who lives on Union Avenue, which runs just across Montauk Highway from East Moriches Boulevard, are concerned about what could be a pattern of gun-related crime in the area, citing an October 29 robbery of the Citgo gas station at the corner of Union Avenue and Montauk Highway that remains unsolved.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Mr. Haff said Sunday morning. “Between this, the robbery at the gas station here and the hit-and-run, it’s been a crazy year. I mean, this is a small town. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen here, ever.”
Last month, Peter Torrillo, 48, of Eastport was arrested and charged in the fatal hit-and-run that took place in the hamlet on November 2 and claimed the life of 27-year-old Erika Strebel, also of Eastport, and injured her relative, Edward Barton, 26, of Center Moriches. And in January 2011, police were dispatched to Union Avenue following a home invasion in which a couple was threatened with a handgun and tied up inside their home. No arrests were made in that crime. The incident forced the lockdown of nearby Eastport Elementary School.
An owner of the gas station who was pumping gas Sunday morning, hours after the fatal shooting, said he opened in Eastport because he had always heard how nice the hamlet and its residents were, something he said has proven to be true. But the man, who declined to give his name, said recent events have been troubling.
The shooting left Mr. Pirir’s four children in Guatemala without a father and his family both here and there shocked, Sister Margaret Smyth said on Tuesday. Sister Smyth runs the North Shore Spanish Apostolate, a Riverhead-nonprofit that assists Latin American immigrants on the East End.
Sister Smyth said she has been working with Mr. Pirir’s two brothers and uncle since the incident, organizing a funeral service for him here and trying to raise money to send his body back home to Guatemala.
“You try to take it one step at a time—‘Let’s do the funeral, let’s make sure your hand is all right, then let’s worry about moving forward,’” she said. “The poor guys are in such a state of shock.”
Sister Smyth said people can send monetary donations to assist the family to her directly at 220 Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.
Neighbors recalled seeing Mr. Pirir, along with his family and the others who lived in the small, gray-paneled house outside playing soccer in the summer and fall. Although the tenants kept to themselves, they were generally nice and considerate, they said.
“It’s a shame—the guys there are nice, they’re in the store all the time,” said Theresa Citarelli, owner of Citarelli’s Gourmet Deli, across the street from where the shooting took place.
“They were always very quiet people,” said Valerie Butkos, who lives on Railroad Avenue, also known as Collins Avenue, a dead-end street that branches off East Moriches Boulevard. “They kept their yard clean, never had big parties and were always very quiet. They grew grass all summer and played soccer in the fall.”
Ms. Butkos, who has lived in the same home for the past 20 years, said the incident was very out of the ordinary for her neighborhood. Her husband, Robert Butkos, said he is not concerned about a similar incident happening to his household, because he believes the house was targeted.
Sister Smyth said Latino immigrants are frequently targeted for crimes because of a common conception that they do not use banks and have large amounts of cash either on their person or in their homes. She said none of the men has indicated that he felt targeted, but she said it’s certainly a possibility.
“With the immigrant community, people sometimes believe that they don’t use banks, so they carry a lot of money around with them all the time,” Ms. Smyth said. “But what people don’t understand that they don’t always have that much to carry.”
A Suffolk County Police spokeswoman said police have not determined if the home was targeted for any specific reason.