By Murray Weiss, Jeff Mays and Tom Liddy
HARLEM — Two men wanted for gunning down teen Harlem basketball star Tayshana Murphy in her apartment building on Sept. 11 were arrested in South Carolina — cowering in a closet, sources and officials said.
Tyshawn Brockington, 21, and Robert Cartagena, 20, allegedly shot Murphy three times — in the chest, hip and arm — after chasing her down in the Grant Houses. Surveillance video showed the two men at the scene of the crime with guns in their waistbands, according to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
They were picked up Wednesday afternoon in Columbia, S.C., where one of the men apparently had a girlfriend, according to the sources.
Rick Long, the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for the South Carolina District said that the suspects were "hiding in the same closet" when more than a dozen officers from the service's regional task force known as Operation Intercept, and other cops from South Carolina and the NYPD swooped into the building where they were hiding out at 3 p.m.
"I can only image it was a small closet," he said.
Both men were arrested without incident and turned over to local South Carolina law enforcement. They were awaiting extradition to New York at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County.
Long said that Cartagena and Brockington were tracked down because of "surveillance and investigation" in the area over the past few days.
Police believe the shooting may have stemmed from a beef between rival crews at the Grant Houses and the nearby Manhattanville Houses.
There was also a suggestion that the bloodshed may have been retaliation for an earlier assault involving Murphy's brother, but her family has denied that either sibling was involved.
Police said that Cartagena, who has a prior arrest for trespassing at the Grant Houses, was assaulted outside a C-Town grocery story on 126th Street a day before the murder.
Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy and Community Leaders Coalition said that he, along with the Murphy family "pray that this will end the violence between the two housing complexes."
Friends of Murphy — among the top point guards in the nation, who was being recruited by colleges and hoped to play in the WNBA — were relieved to learn of the capture.
"It's like a big burden lifted off my shoulders," said Murphy friend Raichell Thompson Pressley, 22. "It's justice.
"A conviction is not going to bring her back but they should get the maximum penalty, especially since they ran."
Jazmin Colbert, 20, who was another friend of Murphy's agreed.
"It brings a lot of relief. Obviously, they knew they were in the wrong because they fled out of state," she said.
Colbert said that the lesson that should come from Murphy's murder is that young blacks and Latinos need to stop killing one another, she said.
"We think of the KKK as white people but I see it as kids killing kids. African-Americans are killing other African-Americans and taking a lot of talent off the earth," she said.
Outside of a memorial for Murphy Wednesday night, building residents who knew her breathed a sigh of relief.
"Rejoice. At least there is some justice out here for somebody," said Malcolm Hill, 26. "I was shocked. She didn't deserve this. She had a bright future."
And while Tanya Saunders said that the arrest is "not going to bring her back" she added that "[the suspects] deserve whatever justice is coming to them."
Just days after the murder, cops arrested a third man, Terique Collins, who was allegedly spotted passing a weapon to the suspected shooters before Murphy's murder.
Collins was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on drug charges in 2009, but was released after only serving a year. He was arrested twice more after being released for that offense, yet he was still not made to serve out his full 3 1/2 year sentence.