On Wednesday, April 22nd, it was a regular night at the Hillside Inn in Jamaica, Queens. About seven customers were propped up at the bar.
The Hillside Inn is Jamaica’s answer to Cheers – the kind of place where everybody knows your name, at least your first name, that is. Reggae legend The Mighty Sparrow reportedly frequents the place. And so does Raymond, a 72-year-old long time, beloved patron of the local watering hole. No one seems to know his last name, but everybody knows Raymond and last Wednesday he played a key part in a showdown that rattled the bar and the neighborhood to its core.
This part of Jamaica, at the end of the F line, is generally quiet – and quiet it has been until last Wednesday night when gunshots rang through the cool, clear evening, alarming both local residents, bar patrons and nearby shopkeepers.
A man, who police have identified as Jonathan Efraim, shot a gun into the ceiling of The Hillside Inn that night, witnesses said, and expressed intent to kill Raymond. He then fled. The police pursued him in patrol cars, police and witnesses said, and caught up with him on 168th Place, past the Kacha Bazaar and a construction site. Efraim paused in front of a small house with a white latticework gate, and according to police reports, turned around and shouted, “Police, Don’t Move!” before firing his gun. He then continued running, said the police report, before stopping once again and shooting at the officers a second time.
Two uniformed officers fired a total of five bullets in his direction, police said, striking him in the torso. He was later taken to Jamaica Hospital in an ambulance, where he was pronounced dead.
The following day, witnesses and residents were still shaken, trying to piece together the events that led to the dramatic shootout. On Thursday after the shooting, two wide-eyed, stocky police officers stood guard all day in the unlit bar behind the double wooden door, according to one employee. And NYPD patrol cars flanked the outside of The Hillside Inn. The little house with a white lattice gate, where the shooter was killed, was still cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape. The neighborhood was buzzing with a combined sense of fear, horror and excitement by the media’s attention. Local television crews negotiated with shop owners, many who were smartly dressed, over the use of surveillance footage and offered play-by-play accounts of what happened to the cameras.
Ali Molla, who lives one street over from where the showdown with police took place, said in the eight years he’s lived in the neighborhood he has never heard of anything like this happen before. Indeed, crime in this part of Queens has been dropping steadily since the 1990’s – the neighborhood has seen a 50% decrease over the last fifteen years.
“My God,” Molla said, “maybe it’s becoming dangerous around here.”
Without a doubt, Wednesday evening fit that bill. At around 8 p.m., a man nobody had seen before entered the bar and pulled up a stool next to Raymond, said a bartender and her colleague, as they sat in a café across the road from the Hillside Inn the following day. Neither woman wanted to reveal their names out of fear of retaliation, but were willing to talk about what they had seen the previous night.
The two men started chatting, they said. Raymond bought a bucket of beers for himself and his new friend. An hour later, the witnesses said, they were both tipsy.
“I thought everything was going fine,” recalled the bartender, who was working her shift that night.
She said that while Raymond was using the bathroom, Raymond’s friend said “something nasty” about him to another customer, along the lines of “How much would you pay me to get rid of this motherfucker.”
“Raymond is just such a nice guy,” she said. Her assumption was that the man had taken issue with that fact that Raymond is openly gay. But she didn’t think that he could possibly be serious about wanting to “get rid” of Raymond.
A little while later, Raymond asked the bartender to get him a cab.
“I’m ready to go home. Would you call me a cab, like you always do,” he told her.
She said Raymond’s friend then looked at her, and asked her: “Do you value your job?”
“Of course, I value my job,” she said she replied.
He said, “Well, then don’t call him a cab. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
She disregarded the comment, she said, and told the man, “I always tell the uncle that I’ll always call him a cab whenever he needs a cab.”
She did and when she put her phone down, she walked around behind the bar, and then heard a gunshot. The man that had been sitting next to Raymond had shot a loaded 9mm Glock, according to police, into the ceiling of the bar.
“I screamed at the top of my voice,” she said. “I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do anything but holler.”
The witness said that the shooter wielded his gun and shouted: “All you motherfuckers get out. Everyone, but Raymond.”
Eric Thompson, another bartender who was working that night, said he grabbed Raymond, and pulled him towards the back exit of the bar.
The bartender, who did not want to give her name, said she ran outside and called 911. “I was screaming, saying, ‘Someone’s going to die, someone’s going to die, please send the police.’” Cop cars soon arrived from all sides, she recalled.
The bartender said she hadn’t slept since the shooting. Every time she dozes off, she said, she can hear the gunshot ringing through her ears again.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she said, wiping her eyes with a paper napkin.