By LIZ GOFF
It was just another Wendys restaurant, one of dozens in Queens,
with yet another crew working another night shift.
There was Jean, the assistant manager who had, earlier
that day, asked his brother to be the best man at his wedding. He had dreams of going back
to college, starting his own company.
Craig Godineaux (top, above) has been sentenced to life in prison, while John Taylor is
awaiting a trial that is expected to begin sometime early 2002.
Photos Courtesy NYPD
"Now I know what I want to do
with my life," he told his brother.
And Anita, eating salads to stay slim, and
excited about starting college in September. She remembered customers favorite
foods, gracefully accepted jabs about her chubby cheeks and was training for a career
working with autistic children.
"If you have Anita for a friend, you
have the best friend in the world," said Pamela Truman, unable to speak of her
granddaughter in past tense.
There was Ramon, whose greatest joys were
moments spent with his family. He loved to "down a brew" while keeping an eye on
a backyard barbecue. He loved dancing salsa, merengue anything.
"Where he was, its an empty
space now," said his brother Benjamin.
They were part of the Queens melting pot.
They came from different neighborhoods, backgrounds but they all came to the Main
Street restaurant on their way to a brighter future. They would do so by salting the
fries, checking the salad bar, mopping the floors.
Jeremy Mele graduated from high school in
June, 1999. Mele moved to Queens from New Jersey after graduation and was "making
it" on his own.
"His pride and joy was his
independence," said his younger brother, Joshua.
And there was Ali Ibadat, remembered by
friends in Ridgewood as a hard-working man who toiled to send money home to his wife and
children in Pakistan.
"He worked seven days a week, all year
round," said Abdul Waheed, his closest friend.
THAT ROCKED THE CITY
Late on Wednesday night, May
24, 2000, the closing-time routine of Jean Auguste, Anita Smith, Ramon Nazario, Jeremy
Mele, Ali Ibadat and two co-workers, Ja Quione Johnson and Patrick Castro was interrupted.
They soon found themselves bound and gagged, forced to lay in pairs face-down on the floor
of a basement freezer at the restaurant. With plastic bags tied over their heads, they
felt the gun. And the Main Street restaurant would never be just another Wendys,
Johnson, who was gravely injured,
survived brain surgery and continues to recover. And Patrick Castro, the Flushing
boy-turned-hero, is recovering from his wounds. He remains under police protection, his
life threatened by "friends" of the massacre mastermind.
The massacre site as it appears today (top) and (bottom)
shrouded by flowers in the days following the murders.
Tribune Photos by Ira Cohen
Castro, who was shot through his
cheeks, worked for 90 minutes to free himself from the duct tape that bound him. Despite
his wounds, he managed to call 911 from a fax phone in the basement. "Were in
the basement," he said. "Were locked in." Castro then untied Johnson
and carried him to the street level, where police found the pair, laying near a counter.
Johnson was being cradled by Castro, who, according to police, was in such shock that he
did not realize hed been shot.
As paramedics rushed to save Johnsons
life, Castro waved away help for himself, telling police, "There are people in the
basement who need your help more than I do."
Thirty-six hours later, Queens detectives
had John Taylor, the mastermind, and his accomplice, Craig Godineaux, in custody. Both men
subsequently blamed each other for the murders, then confessed.
Godineaux, whose confession
of ghoulish acts following the murders that shocked the most hardened investigators,
received five life sentences (without parole) on Feb. 21 for his part in the crimes. He
avoided a possible death sentence by claiming that he is mentally retarded. Godineaux is
currently housed at the Downstate Correctional Facility, where he will be evaluated and a
state correctional facility will be chosen to house him for the rest of his life.
Taylor, still facing the death penalty, is
currently residing at Rikers Island in 23-hour lockup. He was transferred recently from
the Manhattan "tombs" after his part in an attempted inmate breakout branded him
a high-security risk. Taylors trial is expected to begin in early 2002.
The victims of the
Wendys massacre have been remembered in many ways, from a tree planting at the
Queens Botanical Gardens, to the mountains of flowers that were placed outside the
restaurant by anonymous mourners in the days following the massacre.
One year after Anita
was brutally murdered inside the Flushing Wendys where she worked, grandmother
and mother Jean Truman Smith
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
Quality Services for the Autistic
Community will present its first annual Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship on June 28.
The organization where Anita Smith worked
as a volunteer established the fund in her memory.
The group will present a $1,000 check to
its recipient an individual who is pursuing the same career Smith was striving
And on Thursday, May 24, Ben Wong, (the new
owner of the restaurant site), will present an $18,000 check to Gary Strong, Director of
the Queens Library. The donation will fund an after school program at the Main Street
Library, in memory of the victims.
Wong said that he felt he "just had to
do something" on the anniversary of the massacre to honor the victims memories.
Wong also stipulated that any new business could not reopen at the site until the
anniversary had passed.
Benjamin Nazario, still
deeply grieving his brothers death, has vowed to muster support from local
politicians to change a portion of the 1995 Death Penalty Statute. Nazario wants to
eliminate or change the loophole in the law that paved the way for Craig Godineaux to
avoid the death penalty.
Linda Pardo, fiancÚ of Jean Auguste, told
the Tribune, "I wake up everyday and think of him. I would do anything to have
Babbette Mele, sister of Jeremy, said she
is angry at Godineauxs plea. "He (Godineaux) deprived the world of the greatest
person," she said.
Her message to Godineaux: "I can only
hope and pray for the day you will be dead."
One year after her daughters death,
Jean Truman Smith can only be described as heartbroken.
"I wish I could feel her embrace me
with one more hug," Smith said. "With one more kiss."
Wendys officials decided, out of
respect for the victims, to not reopen the restaurant at 40-12 Main St. The storefront was
purchased last December by Wong, who has sub-let it to a group of retailers who are
renovating it for use as a mini-mall.
"For all my life, I have been against
the death penalty," Smith said, adding that the murder of her daughter and the other
victims has "changed her thinking."
"I know that somewhere there is a God
who cares," she said. "These men (Taylor, Godineaux) will be judged by that
Although all signs of the restaurant are
now long-gone, curiosity seekers and passers-by still pause, whispering thoughts and
offering prayers for the victims.
An elderly Asian woman stood outside the
site on Saturday, May 19, praying for peace for the victims spirits. The woman
raised her head slowly, then peered into the brilliant sunlight.
"Mariposa (butterfly)," she said,
putting her hands together, then gently opening and closing them. She pointed to a narrow
piece of plywood nailed to the front of the storefront, where an orange and black
butterfly sat, slowly flapping its wings. Seconds later, it flew away.
The woman again peered into the sun.
"Peace," she said.
Killer, In His Own Words
A Tribune Exclusive
massacre gunman Craig Godineaux offered an apology to the families of his victims on the
anniversary of the murders.
Godineaux, through his Capital Defense
Legal Aid Attorney Colleen Brady, said:
"I know my apology to the families
will never bring their loved ones back."
"I do deserve what I got,"
Godineaux said. "I dont expect nobody to accept my apology, what I did was
"I had no business being there,"
he added. "I want to give the families my apology and tell them that I know I deserve
life in jail."