Brooklyn's Marching Band Community Grief-Stricken by Unsolved Stabbings

By Janon Fisher and Ben Fractenberg  on June 4, 2014 12:42pm

EAST NEW YORK — Even before their names were linked as two victims in separate stabbing attacks, Tanaya Copeland, 18, and 7-year-old Mikayla Capers were connected through the tight-knit Brooklyn marching band community.

As detectives search for the heavy-set man they believe was responsible for killing Copeland on Friday then killing P.J. Avitto and wounding Mikayla on Sunday, the director of the Royal Knights remembered the two girls through their connection with music.

"This hits everybody," Knights leader Osie Smith said.

Copeland, who also went by the last name Grant, was a fierce competitor from the age of 12 when she first joined the Knights, he said.

"She started out on tenor [drum], but she was quite tall for her age so we moved her to bass," Smith said.

"She fell in love with it," he said of Copeland, who was a nursing student at Long Island University in Brooklyn. "She really got competitive and she wanted to grow."

Mikayla, who was wounded in the elevator of the Boulevard Houses on Schenck Avenue while on her way to get an icy treat with her best friend P.J. on Sunday, never played in a band but her mother, Sherina Capers, did and she would bring the little girl to practices, Smith said.

"I was there when she was first born," said Smith, who was also involved with Sherina's band. "Everybody knew her."

A member of the Royal Knights found Mikayla in the Boulevard Houses after the attack, Smith said.

Smith said that Copeland had finished Friday practice and was on her way to rejoin band members after showering and changing her clothes when the attack happened.

Friends were joking with her online and when she didn't respond, they called her cell phone.

"The first time nobody answered," Smith said. "The second time a detective answered the phone."

Band members have set up a fundraising page to accept contributions for Copeland's funeral, which is planned for next week.

A benefit concert at the Brownsville Recreation Center is being planned for July 19 at 11 a.m.

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