The course of three lives changed forever in an angry flash inside a Harlem fish market.
Two brothers trying to buy shrimp for a birthday party instead wound up brawling with store workers on the night of Feb. 21, with one sibling fatally stabbed and the other facing criminal charges for the brief and lethal encounter where an employee was also arrested.
“This entire incident,” said Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Mireille Dee, “took a matter of 35 seconds.”
Junior Aquino Hernandez, an employee of the still-shuttered store, faces assault charges in the death of Malik Burrell on the eve of his 25th birthday, while surviving sibling Bobby struggles with the aftermath of the wild melee where he pulled his dying brother from the store.
“He’s not in his right mind,” dad Robert Burrell told the Daily News about 29-year-old Bobby. “He’s an emotional wreck. He’s never been in anything like this before. And he’s lost his brother.”
The surviving brother is plagued by anxiety attacks and breathing woes, said his father. And he faces charges of robbery and assault in the caught-on-video incident pitting the Burrell brothers against three employees of the Express Fish Market on St. Nicholas Place near W. 155th St.
Hernandez, 34, was accused of assault after prosecutors initially brought charges of murder and weapons possession after the fight where Malik Burrell was mortally wounded.
The fish store has yet to reopen after an angry crowd descended days earlier on the business, with employees trapped inside dialing 911 for police help in exiting safely, according to a Manhattan prosecutor.
The future of the business appears tenuous at best, with frightened workers staying home since the stabbing.
One lifelong neighborhood resident said the workers treated people well, even if their fish was a little pricey. But she didn’t envision a bright future for the seafood business.
“The people who wanted to keep them from reopening are mad because someone was killed here,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “Oh no, that boy’s family has lived around here forever. They’re going to have to sell or something. They can never reopen.”
Neighborhood resident Kenny Parrom, 67, agreed that he never saw any signs of racial animosity from the store workers toward Black customers.
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“The food is good and they are good people,” said the Con Ed worker. “I’m here three times a week. I’m a Black person and they treat me good … Junior is a good guy. He was just trying to protect himself. It’s tough out here. Everybody out here wants to be a gangster.”
A timeline provided by prosecutors recounted a verbal argument between employees and Bobby Burrell, with a fist fight erupting at the store entrance after Burrell allegedly tried to leave without paying for his order of shrimp around 9:30 p.m.
The brawl spread to the sidewalk outside before Bobby Burrell returned four minutes later with his brother, with the two going behind the counter to confront the workers, prosecutors said.
One employee grabbed a chair before Hernandez picked up the knife and stabbed Malik twice in the torso before the battle culminated at the front door of the store, prosecutors said.
Bobby Burrell was also knifed three times, while a store worker was hospitalized for cuts on his face and head, along with a broken tooth.
The two men’s father remains outraged by the decision to drop the top charges against the man who stabbed his son.
“He said it was an accident,” said dad Robert Burrell. “How it is an accident that he stabbed two people that many times?”
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Kerry Burke, Larry McShane