The community room at the Warwick Police Department (WPD) was packed with at least 125 concerned citizens during an open meeting Wednesday, which was scheduled to update, and ease the nerves of local residents in relation to last month’s murder at City Park.
Capt. Robert Nelson, Col. Stephen McCartney, Maj. Ray Gallucci Jr. and other officers and detectives told residents that efforts to solve the case are ongoing. McCartney said yesterday there are no new developments in the case.
“We understand that the public is going to get concerned,” McCartney said during a separate interview. “They like to use that park for a lot of recreational reasons ... we know we have a responsibility to the public to do the very best we can, not just to solve it, but give everyone a little peace of mind. We have stepped it up a bit to keep that area more secure.”
While police said they have increased patrols in and around the park, they are yet to inform the public about whether the fatal attack of John “Jack” Fay, 66, a retired postal worker and Vietnam War Army veteran with a purple heart, was targeted or random. Police found his body in a barrel along the walking path at approximately 10:25 a.m. on May 18 after a jogger discovered his remains and alerted authorities.
During the meeting, Nelson said police continue to follow leads but are unable to provide more information about suspects or motives.
“I can’t answer too much,” Nelson told the assembly. “We’re not going to get into theories.”
What type of weapon the killer – or killers – used also remains a mystery to the public, as does the value of potential evidence captured through surveillance cameras in the park. Remaining tight-lipped, said McCartney, is important to maintain the integrity of the crime.
“If we start telling you everything we know, we’ll have nothing left when we talk to a potential suspect,” McCartney said. “This cannot be a discussion about who’s a suspect [and] who’s not a suspect. We can’t talk to you about the evidence, but we will describe it to you in very general terms. The ultimate aim is to not only give you peace of mind, but also to serve the justice to a family who is without a loved one.”
Nelson agreed. He said the crime hits home with everyone, including members of the WPD, as he and many other officers have been visiting the park for years.
“It’s personal,” he said. “This was an outright murder – a homicide – and it was a vicious attack on a person who didn’t deserve it. That’s why it cuts to our core and why we’re working on it so hard. I’m confident we’re going to do everything we can to solve it.”
Nelson also recapped the crime, noting that it’s likely Fay’s body was discovered near the area his slaying occurred. Evidence shows that Fay, an avid runner, fought for his life but was killed due to blunt force trauma between 4:30 a.m. and 4:45 a.m., the typical time he used the path nearly every morning.
“It is against city limits to be in the park earlier than those hours, however, there is a group of walkers that arrive quite early in the morning around the 4:15 to 4:30 time range, so there is access,” Nelson said, adding that people often park their vehicles outside the park and walk in even if the gate to the main entrance is closed. Still, Fay’s car was found unscathed within park parameters. “The gate was not closed that night and his was not the only vehicle inside the park.”
Since the murder occurred, said Nelson, the gate has remained closed during the appropriate hours as mandated in the city ordinance.
He also said that people were in the park at the time of the murder. One woman heard screams but contacted her sister instead of calling police, who then called for help.
“This put us at a tremendous tactical disadvantage,” McCartney said. “Probably 15 to 20 minutes, maybe even longer, could have gone by from the time screams were heard to the time the call was made.”
And at least 30 hours went by from the time police believe the incident happened until Fay’s body was found. It is unknown how many people traveled the path before the discovery.
“Is that a challenge for us? You bet it’s a challenge, but we’re ready to take it up,” McCartney said.
While some citizens said they don’t think police have any solid leads, others said the meeting provided them with a feeling of security. Buttonwoods resident Kathleen Feeney, a member of the Warwick Democratic City Committee, who also holds a seat on the Minimum Housing Board, is pleased to see police presence at the park.
“As I was driving out [of the park], a police officer was driving in,” she said. “It made me feel more secure to know that they were randomly driving through the area.”
Council President Donna Travis, who oversees Ward 6, attended the meeting, as City Park is located within her Ward. As the vice president of the Oakland Beach Crime Watch, she, along with Feeney, tried to re-establish the former crime watch program for Buttonwoods five years ago, but residents showed little interest.
Now, said Travis, is the time to unite. Learn more about joining crime watch groups by contacting Travis at Donna.M.Travis@warwickri.com.
“Crime watch is very important because you’re the eyes and ears when police officers are not there,” said Travis, noting that the Oakland Beach Crime Watch meets monthly at the JONAH Community Center, with officers informing the group of various crimes that occur in the community, as well as educating them about best practices.
“The police have been doing an enormous amount of work on not only this case, but many other issues,” said Travis.
Aside from the murder, McCartney said the last time an incident took place at the park was 2010. Allegedly, a female was attacked, but the crime was never substantiated. Other crimes include vandalism, as a gazebo was set on fire, plus small spats during sporting events.
While they view the park as safe, officers advised citizens to follow the city ordinance by using the park during appropriate hours only, and to consider walking in groups. The larger the group will reduce the statistical probability an attack would occur.
“We advise citizens to utilize the bike and walking path with extra vigilance,” Gallucci said. “That also includes not being out there alone … I would have no problem with my family being in the park, but again, I would tell them to go with at least two people and address the hour – go during daylight. We want normal activity to continue in the park.”
Gallucci also assured the assembly that if the crime goes unsolved for a long period of time, regular patrols in and around the park would not cease.
“There are 167 police officers who want to be the one to solve this incident,” Gallucci said.
Until then, said McCartney, police will continue to move forward with leads, as well as evidence they collected at the scene. And while the WPD has not yet involved the Rhode Island State Police or any other law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, McCartney said some of the best detectives in the state are working the crime, including former Providence Police Detective Walter Williams, who has testified in at least 300 homicide cases.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the state of Rhode Island who is a better criminalist than Walter Williams, particularly as they relate to a homicide,” McCartney said. “Detectives are working hard to solve this crime.”
Police encourage anyone with information pertaining to the crime to contact police immediately via the TIPS line at 732-8477 or 468-4233.