More than 16 months after Reb Yosef Raksin, Hy”d, was murdered on his way to shul in North Miami Beach, police announced that they had taken a suspect into custody early Wednesday morning. The arrest of 15-year-old Deandre Charles seems to support initial evidence that the killing was a “robbery gone wrong” rather than a hate crime.
At a press conference held at the state attorney’s office in Miami-Dade County on Wednesday afternoon, officials offered additional details and family members reacted to the long-awaited news.
“His murder at the hands of thugs has caused an emptiness and a void that cannot be [filled],” said Reb Yosef’s daughter, Shuli Lapovski. “He was a good, kind and caring father and a wonderful individual whose life was cut short by a violent act…. Today is the third day of our festival of Chanukah, and the light my father had will continue to burn brightly with his children and grandchildren and will never be extinguished.”
In a private meeting with law-enforcement officials, Mrs. Lapovski extended her thanks to local legal and law-enforcement authorities for their regular communication with the Raksin family as well as for continuing to pursue the case over a long period of time, and said that the family hoped that the suspect would be “prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.”
“This is the first step in a long process to bring all those responsible to justice, and we will not rest until all of those involved in my father’s killing are apprehended,” she told Hamodia immediately following the press conference.
The event was attended by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, State Attorney Katherine Fernadez Rundel, members of the Raksin family, and several leaders and activists from the Miami Jewish community. Miami-Dade’s interim police chief expressed his thanks to the Jewish community of Miami-Dade for their patience and help in the investigation, saying that they had “united behind and welcomed police.”
Charles, the suspect, was indicted by a grand jury, and the state attorney announced plans to try the teenager as an adult. He has been charged with first-degree murder, and may face a life sentence should prosecutors succeed in fighting off attempts to try him as a minor.
Officials announced that they have DNA evidence linking Charles to the crime. They believe that he and several accomplices participated in a robbery earlier on August 9, 2014, the day of the murder, and stopped to rob Reb Yosef while traveling away from the earlier crime scene. While an investigation is ongoing for others involved in the two incidents who remain at large, police believe it was Charles who actually committed the murder.
Reb Yosef, a member of the Lubavitch community and a Crown Heights resident, was in North Miami Beach visiting his daughter, Mrs. Lapkovski, and her family. On Shabbos morning, he was on his way to Shacharis at a local shul, Beis Menachem, when he was shot and killed.
The tragedy deeply affected communities both in Miami and his native Brooklyn, where hundreds attended his levayah.
Since Reb Yosef’s death, authorities had made sporadic statements that new leads and evidence had been gleaned, but no arrests had been made.
“They are very happy that an arrest has been made, but that does not change the fact that their father’s life was extinguished by a vicious and violent person,” Rabbi Yehuda Kaploun, who has served as spokesperson for the Raksin family since the time of the murder, told Hamodia.
Many in the Miami community had feared that the murder was motivated by anti-Semitism; however, evidence presented by police seems to confirm initial claims that robbery was the true intent.
Rabbi Yosef Maslow of Beis Menachem told Hamodia that the arrest has been met with “mixed feelings,” saying that the seemingly isolated nature of the incident brings a certain level of relief. “It brings some sort of closure, too, but that will not bring him back, and it is still a terrible tragedy,” he said.
Alan Sakowitz is an activist from North Miami Beach who has been heavily involved in issues related to public safety. “In the past two or three years,” he said, “there have been fewer robberies, but even one is too many — especially if they kill somebody, which is outrageous.”
He added that the pattern of the crime — without the resulting murder — fit a pattern the community had seen on several occasions.
“We are surrounded on three sides by high-crime neighborhoods,” said Mr. Sakowitz. “People drive through on Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim seeing well-dressed men and women walking, and they seem like easy targets. They are not looking for Jews per se, but we have gotten caught in the middle.”
He added that much has been done over the past decade to further protect the neighborhood, which is home to an estimated 900 frum families, but that certain key issues remain a matter of debate between local advocates and officials.