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Ted Waddell | Democrat

THOMAS DEGROAT, 16, an 11th grader at Monticello High School, talked about his friend Reggie Rios-Costello.

Mysteries remain in Rios-Costello's death

By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO — March 7, 2008 — “I don’t know what happened or how it happened,” said Abdul Wadood, the stepfather of a Monticello teenager who was found dead last Wednesday, February 27 at 46 Chestnut Street in the Village of Liberty, his body partially exposed to the elements and wedged beneath a bilco door of an apartment house basement.
According to law enforcement authorities, boys shoveling snow off driveways and sidewalks along the busy street discovered the body later identified as Reginald “Reggie” Rios-Costello, and called 911 at approximately 1:50 p.m.
Lt. Robert Mir of the Liberty Police Department said Rios-Costello apparently tried to squeeze out the door, which was padlocked from the outside and covered with about a foot of snow, but after getting his head through the crack, appeared to have been pinned down by the weight of the snow.
“The circumstances are very unusual, we just haven’t been able to put together the pieces of the puzzle,” he said on Tuesday, March 4.
“We had a forensic pathologist come in from out of the county, and his report will be a big piece of the puzzle,” he added.
What has local cops stymied for the moment was why the popular teenager took his stepfather’s car keys and car from Monticello early in the morning of February 27, and was found dead in an apartment building a dozen miles away.
At the time of Rios-Costello’s death, authorities were united in saying the death was “suspicious.”
Candlelight vigil
On the evening following Rios-Costello’s death, several hundred friends and classmates converged on Crown Fried Chicken, located on Broadway in the Village of Monticello and owned by his stepfather, for an emotional candlelight memorial service.
Wadood said once he discovered his son missing, he called police.
A few hours later they told him Rios-Costello was dead.
“At night time I was sleeping, and he took the car keys from my pocket,” said Wadood. “He took the car and went somewhere… in the morning when I woke up, he was not home.”
“The police didn’t send anybody over or nothing…[but] about three ’clock, the one police officer he came here… he told me the police had found somebody dead.”
Wadood said that after a trip to the Liberty Police station, he was taken to Catskill Regional Medical Center, but authorities refused to let him see his son’s body.
His reaction?
“If something had happened to you like that, what would you do?” he said, to which the officer reportedly replied, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”
The candlelight memorial service on the sidewalk in front of Crown Fried Chicken resembled a memorial to victim of gang violence or drugs in the South Bronx or Harlem: bunches of flowers, candles guttering in the wind, a small blue bear, and pictures of the deceased surrounded with Rest In Peace sentiments, followed by brief hand written memories of the slain.
Inside, the chicken joint was packed with young people, stunned at the death of their friend.
A bit further, a couple of burly adults stood guard at the counter, sheltering Wadood, his wife and their youngest daughter from the outpouring of emotion, while in front of the counter a couple of plastic wrapped yellow ribbons “Support Our Troops” and a small American flag was tacked to the wall.
His friends remember
“He was just a good person, really generous,” said Jonathan Hernandez, a 17-year old senior at Monticello High. “I used to sing with him all the time, everybody loved him.”
“I think it was drug related, and somebody was chasing him. He escaped to the basement and was trying to get out the back, and the door came down on his neck.”
Dommique Person is a freshman at the local high school.
“He liked to sing, liked to dance. He was a funny person and good to everybody, he never had a problem with anybody,” Person said. “He’d do different than other people, he liked to wear different stuff, no matter what anybody said.
“I believe he was set up… he wasn’t in no gang or nothin’, he talked to people who was in gangs, but he wasn’t [a member].”
James Wilkes graduated from Monticello in 1996, and was one of the adults standing guard to the back of the restaurant.
“He was like an angel, that smile on his face. After school, he used to come in here and work with his dad. He worked all summer to save money for his school clothes,” he said.
“Their religion is what keeps them strong,” Wilkes said of the family’s faith in Islam. “All the violence has got to stop, and whatever happened in the dark will come to light.
“His death is a tragedy. It sent shock waves through my body and the community,” he added.
Alexander White came down from Albany, and has seen his share of violence.
“He was a brother of mine, and he taught my wife and son about Islam. We need to stop the violence, I’ve lost too many brothers to violence,” White said.
Sixteen-year-old Thomas DeGroat is a junior at MHS.
“I miss my boy, he was one of my best friends. He was humble and sweet… it’s sad to see something like this happen,” DeGroat said.
His take on the death?
“Only Reggie knows,” he replied. “I love you Reggie.”
Tyler Hutchens, 16, is an 11th grader who wrote a poem set in rap cadence from the heart about his departed friend and former schoolmate:
Why the baddest things happen to the greatest people?
Why they bodies gotta end up under the nearest steeple?
What’s the reason this young cat hadda die?
But you’re always in our hearts and you won’t ever leave.
But you being gone is something I just can’t believe.
“Losing a friend is just as bad as losing family,” said Hutchens. “We were pretty cool, and it hit everybody pretty hard. He wasn’t supposed to go out like this.”
Jessie York, a local political activist and founder of the Sullivan County Million Man March, said, “I don’t think this was no accident. The police need to step it up, find out what’s going on. “
York graduated from MHS in 1965 and didn’t pull any punches about his feelings at the lack of local politicians showing up for the candlelight memorial service.
“They should be ashamed,” he said. “I’m very ashamed of our leaders.”
The Wadoods moved to Monticello from Pakistan about five years ago, and bought the fried chicken restaurant.
In 2003, Rios-Costello converted to Islam, his stepfather’s religion.
He is survived by his parents, and three siblings: Niza (25), Bryan (21) and 13-year-old Aisha.
Reaction at Monticello HS
The Monticello school district activated its crisis team as soon as news of Rios-Costello’s death was released.
“It’s sort of a strange circumstance for us,” said Superintendent Dr. Pat Michel.
Rios-Costello left the school district in December – he was no longer a student. In fact, Michel said his staff wasn’t aware he was in the area.
But the district was hit hard because Rios-Costello is remembered by so many – students and staff alike.
“Our kids our sad, and we have a lot of staff who remembered him as a good kid,” Michel said. “He’s a young life, and nobody wants to see this happen.
“He’s going to be in our prayers and our thoughts, and we’ll do everything we can do to help.”
Investigation ongoing
Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen F. Lungen, said on Wednesday of the ongoing investigation by the Liberty Police and New York State Police, “We’re still trying to figure out what happened. They’ve interviewed an awful lot of people on this thing to try to figure out how is it, and why it is that the victim was at this location in Liberty.”
“We’re looking at some people in the vicinity of Liberty to find out how they’re connected… we’ve done a lot of work in that regard.”
Lungen said he is still waiting for the toxicology report “that will be very helpful to us.”
He said the recent assault and robbery in Roscoe is unrelated, but authorities are still investigating a possible link to a shooting incident on Fulton Street in Monticello on Thursday, February 29 that resulted in the arrest of two men on multiple felony charges.
“I won’t comment on that thing in Monticello yet,” said Lungen, who added of the teen death, “Whenever you have something like this. You’re always looking at drugs… without a doubt, that’s something we are looking at.”
Final thoughts from his parents
Catherine Wadood remembered her son.
“He was supposed to go places, he wanted to do a clothing line, he wanted to do so many things. He was an excellent student, a great artist.”
“Overall, he was a good Muslim man. I’d like him to be remembered the way he lived, a wonderful, wonderful human being.”
“I guess I have to be strong for everybody else,” she added. “I’ve got to deal with it the best way that I can.”
Abdul Wadood said it was hard dealing with his son’s sudden death.
“Anybody who’s got kids would understand. He was a really good kid, very honest.”
“I can’t forget him,” added Wadood, tears starting to well in his eyes.

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