Oct. 5, 2011
New York, NY – On Monday night, three dozen candles, flanked by empty Hennessy bottles, plastic flowers and a few grams of marijuana, illuminated the shaded barbershop in Brooklyn where two days earlier the owner had been shot and killed.
Friends and co-workers gathered there in order to remember Warren Billings, 38, who was slain in front of customers inside his barbershop at 2129 Cortelyou Road at approximately 3:50 p.m. on Saturday, according to police reports.
“I was with my back turned to him, cutting. I thought it was a firecracker or something. There was no bang, just a loud ‘Pah!’,” said a fellow barber and close friend who was working with him that day, and who refused to give his name to avoid unnecessary risks.
The shooter, described by witnesses as a 6-foot black man in his 20s wearing a brown hooded jacket and grey sweatpants, was last seen running towards East 22nd Street, police said.
The investigation is ongoing — police declined to comment on leads or possible motives for the crime — and most of the people who gathered in front of the barbershop on Monday to honor Billings couldn’t understand why someone would want to hurt him.
“He was a good-hearted man. If you wanted something to eat, he would give you something. If you didn’t have it, he’d give it to you. If he was down to his last dollar and you needed it, he’d give it to you,” said Tito Rodriguez, 35, of Coney Island, who had been friends with him since childhood.
Billings, a humble, funny Jamaican who lived with his sister and had a 9-year-old daughter, loved animals and used to greet people who walked in front of his place, according to neighbors and childhood friends.
“He was so helpful. When he would see me carrying bags, he’s always come to help. He was always smiling, would always say hello,” said Lisa Boy, a former customer who works at a nursing home in Long Island.
The barber’s death came as a surprise to many people in the neighborhood. Even though residents know that Flatbush is dangerous — there have been 8 murders in 2011 in the 70th precinct, according police — everyone who was willing to talk described Billings, known as “Paul” to most and as “Crack Pot the Pirate” to his close friends due to his drinking and pet birds, as a “very nice guy” who minded his own business and harmed no one.
“If Paul saw a roach on the ground, he’d walk around the insect and say, ‘Someone else kill the roach,’” said Bernard Shaw, a man in his forties who grieved at the barbershop Monday afternoon.
The shop, labeled “Barber Shop” in white bold letters on the window, is located near the Cortelyou Road subway stop on the Q line, where it’s not rare to see children ducking under the turnstiles to avoid paying the fare. In this predominantly black neighborhood with high levels of poverty, it was known as a place where you could get a haircut even if you didn’t have the required $15.
The store was also known for a couple of parakeets that flew around unattended, ready to land on Billing’s shoulders at any time, while clients and passersby went in to get a haircut or simply talk.
On Monday night, four of his friends remembered some of the times they dropped by, while drinking Hennessy — Billing’s favorite drink — in front of the candle-lit crime scene.
“He was a street guy, but not the kind to be involved in something like this,” said Jaison Henderson, a bald, sturdy friend, referring to the strange circumstances of his friend’s death.
“They have to get the little boy who killed him. My Paul was in his late 30s. No little boy can just come and take his life away,” he said while one of his companions stared blankly at the poster-covered windows.
(One of the posters read: “To my dear friend Paul who I knew for so many years. Why did it have to end like this? In my heart you will stay forever. R.I.P. Paul”).
After opening another bottle in a brown bag, Henderson flung drops of the cheap cognac over the barbershop’s glass, briefly obscuring with his dark leather jacket an aquarium in which four goldfish, an Ancistrus and a tiny turtle swam amidst the claws of a plastic lobster.
“If I had the power I would just grab his hand and raise him, and he’d probably wake up laughing,” he said while mimicking Jesus’ gesture towards Lazarus.