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Killer of 6-Year-Old Boy May be Linked to Earlier Murder, Police Say

By  Trevor Kapp and Aidan Gardiner | June 3, 2014 7:46am 

 A man who stabbed two kids, killing P.J. Avitto, may also have killed Tanaya Copeland, police say.
Police Hunt Suspect in Brooklyn Stabbings
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BROOKLYN — The man who brutally stabbed two kids on their way to get ice cream Sunday, killing one of them, may have also murdered an 18-year-old just two days earlier, according to police.

And the father of 6-year-old victim Prince Joshua (P.J.) Avitto said the attacker may have been a fixture of the East New York neighborhood for months.

"When I saw that picture, it dawned on me, this is a homeless guy. People in my building used to serve him meals," said the grieving dad, Nicholas Avitto, 56, talking about an artist's sketch of the suspect that police released Monday.

"I know that sketch. It's definitely him. Me and my son used to come past him. I don't know his name."

 The man who fatally stabbed P.J. Avitto, left, and wounded his friend Mikayla Capers, right, may have also killed Tanaya Copeland, center, police said.
The man who fatally stabbed P.J. Avitto, left, and wounded his friend Mikayla Capers, right, may have also killed Tanaya Copeland, center, police said.
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Composite with Instagram/tajgibson22, Facebook/SuperFlyNaya and Family Handout

The man Avitto remembered had frequented the area for at least two years until early 2014, when he stopped showing up, he said.

Police are looking into the father's claims and evidence that his son's death may be linked to the Friday murder.

Several factors in both incidents seemed too similar to be coincidental, including the type of knife used and that both incidents took place within a short period of time in the same neighborhood, the NYPD said.

"There are very, very close similarities between the two," said the NYPD's Chief of Department, Phillip Banks.

"We believe there is a real possibility that it is the same person. Not 100 percent, but probably more likely than not."

Investigators recovered a Dura Edge blade made by Imperial Knife that the killer ditched Sunday after fatally stabbing Prince Joshua and critically injuring the boy's best friend, Mikayla Capers, 7, in an elevator at 845 Schenck Ave. about 5:50 p.m., police said.

"My son was a cartoon fanatic," Avitto said.

"He loved superheroes, Batman, Superman, and thought he could do whatever they did. He might've defended that little girl thinking he was a superhero and thinking he was playing the game and the man stabbed them all up."

A relative of the boy, Chicago Bulls player Taj Gibson, also shared his grief over Twitter.

"They killed my lil super man. #rippj only two more weeks until your 7 birthday. Tears forever," Gibson tweeted along with a photo of the boy in a red graduation cap.

The Dura Edge blade, which Imperial stopped making in 2004, resembled the one used to kill Tanaya Copeland across the street from 864 Stanley Ave. about 10:30 p.m. Friday, police said.

"Last night as I was making funeral arrangements for my daughter I heard the news about these two little kids," said Copeland's mother, Rochelle.

"Tanaya was the love of my life and I feel for them because their kids was younger. I had 18 years, they had six. So I'm just begging ya'll, we need help. Please help us."

All three victims were taken to Brookdale Hospital, where Copeland and P.J. were pronounced dead. Mikayla was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital where she remains in critical condition, officials said.

While the suspect remains at large, police asked neighbors to stay vigilant, not only to help catch him but also to protect themselves.

"We very, very seldom solve crimes like this without the help from the community," Banks said.

"So what we need them to do is, one, be vigilant as much as they possibly can and, two, move around in pairs and keep their eyes and ears open.

"If history repeats itself, it's going to be somebody from the community that's going to see something and give that to us in a timely manner."

Police have been checking shelters and getting in touch with those recently released from prison with histories of mental illness, Banks said.

"We had one person pulled in from a  shelter. We cleared that individual. We certainly believe the person who did this might have some mental illness," he said.

The suspect is believed to be between 25 and 35 years old, heavy-set and about 6-feet tall, police said.

The NYPD is offering a $12,000 reward along with another $5,000 from the borough president's office for information that puts him behind bars, officials said.

"You're going to get caught, and believe me, God has no respect for anyone who would do that to little babies," Avitto said.

While police investigate his son's death, Avitto has continued to make the morning trip to his son's school — as he did daily when the boy was alive.

"My son is not with me, but I go on doing that diligently," he said.

"I take him to school and I speak to him and we go throughout our day. 'P.J. have a good day, learn something and tell me what you learned and enjoy yourself.'"

"My son is with me as far as I'm concerned. I just can't connect with him yet as far as spiritually," he added.

Anyone with information should contact Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477).

With reporting by Ben Fractenberg.