CLINTON HILL — A beloved Grand Avenue man, known for sweeping the neighborhood's streets at night while singing old Motown songs, was mourned by his neighbors as news spread that his killer had been arrested, more than a month after the shooting, police said.
Gilbert Kelly, 65, who was passionate about beautifying his corner of Brooklyn and advised neighbors on how to do the same, was gunned down about 4:30 a.m. on March 15 when he confronted 18-year-old Victorious Kingsberry who had stolen a bag of grapes from a 24-hour market and was throwing them at people, neighbors and sources said.
A woman who lived in the building Kelly was killed in front of called him the "protector" of the block.
"We miss him. We miss him. We miss him," said the woman, who identified herself only by the initials C.M.
Kingsberry had just exited a subway station at Washington Avenue and Fulton Street with a group of at least five people when he swiped the bag of grapes from a fruit stand, which the group then threw around as they made their way east to Grand Avenue, sources said.
Kelly, who was outside of 424 Grand Ave., two doors down from his home, told the group to stop, sparking an argument that quickly escalated, sources said. Kelly pulled out a sharp object, prompting Kingsberry to draw his gun and shoot Kelly in the torso, sources said.
Kelly died en route to the hospital, police said.
Neighbors were effusive about their grief for the loss of Kelly, who they remembered as a man who loved his neighbors and would go get their groceries and take in garbage cans after trash day. At a memorial near his home on Grand Street, mourners taped a broom and dustpan to a tree along with the words "R.I.P. Kelly" scrawled in silver ink on an old Motown record.
"He watched the whole block, singing his tunes, minding his business. He was like family," said neighbor Brenda Lewis.
"When you got up in the morning, the street was clean as clean can be. He's missed. I think about him all the time," C.M. said.
After his death, neighbors collected money to pay for his funeral and burial, Lewis said.
"His funeral was packed, all colors, all types," she said. "Everyone was shocked. It was so heartless."
Kingsberry, who lives about eight blocks east of the shooting scene, was arrested Thursday by the NYPD's Violent Felony Squad on charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon, police said. He had been spotted while walking on the street, the NYPD said.
Kingsberry had a long criminal record, with 15 prior arrests for crimes including grand larceny, burglary, trespassing, jumping turnstiles, and most recently for criminal possession of a loaded weapon on Feb. 28, police said.
Kelly moved to the neighborhood in 1984, and spent time in prison the 1990s on a drug conviction, according to Changing New York, which profiled him in 2011. When he returned home, he devoted himself to cleaning up the area and was often heard singing while he swept, the profile reported.
"When I can look down the street and see no dirt on the whole thing — this is my high," Kelly told the website.
Neighbors said they still miss him.
"He cleaned the street for me," said a landlord near where Kelly lived. "He was a really good guy."