Crime

Teen arrested in rabbi’s 2014 killing on Northeast Miami-Dade street

State attorney announces arrest of teen suspect in slain 2014 rabbi case

Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade Police Department's Director Juan Perez announce the arrest of a juvenile in the shooting death of Rabbi Joseph Raksin on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.
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Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade Police Department's Director Juan Perez announce the arrest of a juvenile in the shooting death of Rabbi Joseph Raksin on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.

After a beloved rabbi was shot to death walking to temple last year, a shocked community came together.

Neighbors pooled money for a reward. They went on high alert to help police find a killer.

But mostly, they wondered who took the life of a religious man who wasn’t carrying money as he strolled to synagogue for Sabbath services.

Now they know.

After months of painful mystery, a suspect is in custody. A DNA match and eyewitness testimony helped identify a 14-year-old Norland High student, now 15, as the killer who gunned down Rabbi Joseph Raksin.

The murder weighed heavily on a Northeast Miami-Dade community with at least 10 synagogues in a square mile. The arrest brought a sense of relief.

“Everyone was talking about it in shul [temple] this morning,” said Yona Lunger, a Miami-Dade Jewish community activist and member of a neighborhood watch group known as the Shmira Patrol. “It couldn’t be better timing than to happen during Hanukkah, when each day was a miracle.”

Izzy Labkowski, Raksin’s son-in-law, said Wednesday that knowing that someone is being held responsible for his father-in-law’s death brings some comfort.

“This is a sad situation, especially when we hear that the [alleged] murderer was 14 years old,” he said. “We just hope other young kids learn from this.”

Miami-Dade police arrested Deandre Edwin Charles at dawn Wednesday after a grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery.

Raksin, visiting from Brooklyn, was felled with one fatal .40-caliber round to the chest on the morning of Aug. 9, 2014. At the time, Raksin was on his way to Bais Menachem Chabad in the 1000 block of Northeast 172nd Terrace.

In accordance with his beliefs, Raksin was not carrying any valuables on the holy day of rest — but was nonetheless targeted by at least two young people, one wielding a pistol.

“We believe this was a robbery,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said during a news conference on Wednesday attended by police brass, religious leaders and the county’s mayor. “It was a crime of opportunity.”

Said the rabbi’s daughter, Shuli Labkowski-Raksin: “We want this vicious thug to be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.”

The killing rocked the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community, and the devout suddenly feared walking to synagogue. They pooled $50,000 for a reward leading to an arrest. In New York City, hundreds mourned at services for the rabbi.

On Wednesday night, those walking from synagogue said police had stepped up patrols after the shooting and people began to feel safer.

“I am not scared to walk to shul by myself,” said Benny Zigelbom, 11, who was leaving Bais Menachem Chabad — where Raksin was headed — with his father, Meir Zigelbom.

Zigelbom said, however, that an arrest “brings a sense of closure, relief.”

The arrest capped an exhaustive 16-month investigation in which homicide detectives combed through cellphone records, tested evidence for DNA and even relied on a sketch drawn by a neighbor who saw the gunman running from the scene.

Miami-Dade prosecutors declined to reveal more details about the case. Exactly where the DNA was found at the crime scene — and how detectives obtained a sample from Charles — remains shielded from the public as detectives look to build a case against others believed to be involved in the killing.

“Turn yourselves in, or we will come get you,” said Juan Perez, Miami-Dade police’s acting director.

Prosecutors Michael Von Zamft and Marie Mato on Tuesday secured a grand jury indictment. By Wednesday morning, the Norland High student was arrested at his home in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Charles refused to talk to homicide detectives and was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

His family told reporters that Charles was home at the time of the shooting.

“He was home at the time. His whole family knows that,” stepfather Willis Archibald told reporters. “They are pinning this on a young teenager that has a lot of issues, but this is ridiculous. I am 100 percent sure that he is innocent.”

State records show Charles has one arrest on his rap sheet.

In August 2012, Miami Beach police arrested Charles and another teen on grand theft charges after they were accused of stealing a man’s wallet off an Ocean Drive restaurant tabletop. What the punishment was, if any, remains undisclosed because most juvenile-court records are private.

“There are too many guns, and too many young shooters on our streets,” Fernandez Rundle said.

Charles will likely make a first appearance in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Thursday. He is charged as an adult.

Meanwhile, Labkowski said he and his family will continue to honor Raksin and keep his memory alive.

“What is hard is not having my father-in-law,” said Labkowski, who passes where Raksin was shot every day on his way to shul. “The real pain was not that there hadn’t been an arrest. It was that he is not here with us.”

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