Gay Bronx Youth Arrested in Fatal Stabbing Tells His Side

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Abel Cedeno, 18, who faces second-degree murder charges before a Bronx grand jury this week in the fatal stabbing of Matthew McCree, said McCree's pummeling of him on September 27 made him “afraid for my life.” | FACEBOOK

Abel Cedeno, 18, the bullied gay teen charged with killing one classmate, Matthew McCree, 15, and wounding another, Ariane Laboy, 16, with a knife spoke to Gay City News from Rikers Island on Sunday, recounting the incident, the anti-gay bullying that preceded it for years, and the way it intensified on September 27 inside his history class at the Bronx’s Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in front of two teachers and a class full of students.

While most press reports say that Cedeno was just being pelted with pencils before the stabbing, Abel said he was defending himself from repeated punches from McCree, who saw that Cedeno had a knife.

“I was trying to get him off me,” Cedeno said, explaining he knew his tormentors to have gang connections and that many of the students at the school carry weapons — “knives and, in some cases, guns,” he said. “I was afraid for my life.”

Abel Cedeno recounts years of bullying, September 27 pummeling that made him “afraid for my life”

In using his recently purchased knife — which he got on Amazon but is forbidden in city schools — for protection, “No way did I think someone could die,” Cedeno said, adding he was convinced he would die if he did not defend himself from McCree’s attack.

“[McCree] knew me as the gay kid with the long hair,” Cedeno said. “He hated that ‘entity.’ He didn’t know me.”

He said that McCree continued to pummel him even after Cedeno used the knife to ward him off.

Cedeno said he “snapped” when he was being beaten in the face.

“I don’t remember that much,” he said.

When school security took him away after the stabbing, Cedeno said, he was still “afraid for my life” and feared for the lives of his family members because of what he believed to be McCree’s gang membership. This led him to have a “panic attack” while in the school office.

[Editor’s note: Read about the grand jury's action in this case here.]

Much has been made in press accounts of the fact that Cedeno had not interacted with McCree or Laboy prior to September 27. Cedeno said, “I knew from other students they had gotten into fights. Matt had hit my friend in the neck and ran away.” He said he also knew that “there are groups of boys in gangs and [McCree and Laboy] hung around with those kids who carry knives and guns. Even the teachers are afraid of these students.”

Social media users who say they are part of the 800YM gang have claimed McCree as a member in online postings and have threatened Cedeno’s family and friends.

While there were many witnesses to what happened, there is concern that they will be afraid to testify in Cedeno’s defense for fear of retaliation.

As Cedeno prepares to testify before the grand jury at Bronx Criminal Court on Tuesday — unusual for someone accused of a serious crime, who is not legally bound to do so — he has the support of his family, two veteran gay attorneys who have signed on to defend him, and his local state senator, Ruben Diaz., Sr., who, despite a long record of opposing LGBTQ rights, believes Cedeno is not getting a fair shake.

Cedeno’s supporters will rally at 10 a.m. outside the court urging that he not be charged. There will also be a rally of McCree’s friends and relatives.

Cedeno is represented by Christopher R. Lynn, once the counsel for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights that passed the city’s gay rights law in 1986 and taxi commissioner and later transportation commissioner for Mayor Rudy Giuliani. His co-counsel is Robert J. Feldman.

Lynn said, “Abel did not attack anyone. It was he who was attacked.”

The McCree family is represented by Sanford Rubenstein, who has taken on many high profile cases of people of color who have been victims of hate crimes or abused by the police.

The senior assistant district attorney in the case is Nancy Borko, assistant chief of the Bronx Homicide Bureau.

This case does not fall into any easy category. A Latino gay youth says he was being bullied and attacked by an African-American youth and was acting in self-defense. Cedeno, according to his sister, lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his mom and shared a room with two siblings. McCree, according to the New York Times, lived in a two-bedroom with his mother and two siblings, sharing a room with his brother.

The case has highlighted the failure of the New York City schools to combat bullying despite putting a variety of policies into place over the years as well the enactment of a state law meant to curb bullying and create a climate of respect among students.

The city Department of Education will likely be sued for millions by Rubenstein for failing to have metal detectors at this high school and, perhaps in addition, for doing little to contain bullying and other violence there.

In a 2016 survey, 55 percent of students reported feeling safe at Wildlife and 19 percent of teachers said they would “recommend” the school to parents — down from 94 percent in 2013. The deterioration of the climate has been attributed to a massive turnover in leadership and teaching staff over the last few years.

Cedeno said from jail that he was grateful for “the support for me and my family.” He told Gay City News he identifies as gay — though many stories identified him as “bisexual.” He said he was unaware of the resources that are out there for LGBTQ youth, such as the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) and the Harvey Milk High School that the Department of Education runs as a haven for students harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity — though being LGBTQ is not a requirement — with HMI running its after-school programs.

McCree’s story and family life have been recounted in numerous stories, including a profile in the New York Times that gave a very incomplete version of the fateful confrontation. Cedeno and his family are only now speaking publicly with their side of what happened on September 27 and prior to that.

Cedeno recounted the incident in detail to Gay City News, having already talked to the police about it. That day in class, he said, “They started throwing stuff [at me] — broken pencils, pens, caps of pens.” He said they were hitting his neck where he had just had his mother’s name tattooed and the area was tender.

“I said, ‘Please stop,’ but they kept on,’” Cedeno recalled. “I got permission to use the bathroom from the teacher, went, came back, and it started to pick up again. I just got my book bag, started to leave, and as I left they kept throwing stuff at me. I screamed loud, ‘WHO IS THROWING ALL THAT STUFF AT ME?’ It got quiet. Matt got up and said, ‘Hey, it was me. What’s good?’ which is slang for, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I had to stand my ground. I was tired of not doing anything about it. One teacher, Mr. Kennedy, right next to Matt, didn’t do anything.”

Then, Cedeno said, “Matthew walked aggressively toward me from the back of the room. He walked past the second teacher, Mr. Jacobi, who didn’t do anything. As he got closer, I felt frozen in place. I couldn’t move my feet. [I knew] lots of boys and girls carry knives and even guns. I thought that I was going to die. I took out my knife and showed everyone. Frankie [another student] was pulling [Matt’s] arm, saying, ‘Slow down. He has that,’ but [Matt] shook him off. He came at me. He hit my face twice. The second time I snapped. All the years of bullying, and I couldn’t control my body and started to defend myself. The other boy, Laboy, hit me as well in the face.”

At this point, Cedeno said, “I don’t even remember that much. I was trying to get them off me. Laboy was going up on me. Both punching me,” despite the two youths apparently having been cut by Cedeno’s knife.

School security finally arrived and took Cedeno away. He had a panic attack because “I was afraid for my life.” It did not subside until after the police came. “No way did I think someone could die.”

According to Cedeno’s sister, their mother had often complained to school authorities about the bullying to which Abel was subjected and the toll it was taking on his studies and mental health. Cedeno had missed so much school that he was repeating the 12th grade.

When his mom complained about her son being called “a faggot,” a teacher at the school “told him to ignore it and ‘be the better person,’” Cedeno’s sister said. “They were telling him to ‘suck it up’ — and he fell into a depression. He would come home from school and go straight to bed.”

Cedeno’s sister described a loving family that nurtured him and included openly bisexual women, including herself. But despite letting him know that they would be accepting no matter what his sexuality was, he kept to himself about it until now — even though the bullying to which he was subjected was often based on his fellow students’ perception that he was gay.

“I would tell him, ‘We’re here for you,’” Cedeno’s sister said. “He would just say, ‘I’m good.’”

She said her brother had some challenges growing up — overcoming stuttering and being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder at age seven and going on medication for it.

“It helped him focus, but it numbed him to some point,” Cedeno’s sister said. “He was very bright. All the teachers loved him. He was very good in math and sciences. He wanted to be a model, an actor, or a marine biologist.”

“Ninety percent of his friends were girls,” she added. “They all loved him. In the fifth grade, he said, ‘I want to grow my hair long so I can donate it to cancer patients,’ and he did just that even though he got picked on a lot in the sixth grade for it.”

As time went on, Cedeno’s depression increased, he had mood swings, and he was always “fighting about not wanting to go to school,” his sister said. Teachers would “write out plans for him” in response, she added, but not deal with the underlying problem of the bullying. He didn’t want to change schools because his girlfriends were there, but when most of them graduated in June and he had to repeat his final high school year, he became more isolated.

“One friend said to him, ‘You need to have some protection without us there. You know everyone has a knife,’” Cedeno’s sister recalled.

She also emphasized, “We want people to know how this is affecting our family and how out of character this was for Abel. We’re sorry for everything. No one deserves to lose their child. I see this as a wake-up call that bullying is serious and the schools need to see its effects and take it seriously.”

The District Attorney’s Office initially charged Abel with second-degree murder. Depending on their reading of the evidence, the grand jury could return a charge of manslaughter instead. Cedeno’s attorneys, who cannot make a presentation to a grand jury, do not think he should be indicted for anything. If he is indicted, their affirmative defense will be “extreme emotional disturbance” and “justificat­ion” — the legal term for self-defense.

[Editor’s update: On October 17, the grand jury reduced the charges against Cedeno from murder to manslaughter. Read about that here.]

“It’s clear as day that he snapped,” Feldman said.

A Wildlife school employee posted online that Cedeno “deserves to be free. These kids were bullying him for a while.”

And for a while, Cedeno’s friends were speaking up for him in the press, but many fear retaliation now. There has been no public comment from the teachers who were in the room that day and are alleged to have done nothing.

Two online petitions calling for mercy for Abel have garnered more than 8,000 and almost 500 signatures, respectively.

Sophie Cadle, 23, a trans woman and LGBTQ community advocate, is helping organize a rally for Cedeno that was initiated by Lazara Castillo, a mom whose gay son had also been bullied, outside Bronx Criminal Court at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Before coming out as transgender, Cadle said, “I was a gay kid in the New York City public schools. I dealt with bullying. I dealt with family neglect. I was in Rikers for nine months and have a suit against the city for discrimination, assault, and bullying by corrections officers.”

Cadle said she has turned over to the police multiple screen captures of online posts purportedly showing Bronx gang members threatening to avenge Matthews death — including by going after Cedeno in jail, though he is in protective custody at Rikers.

The plight of Abel Cedeno has moved her and thousands of others. No one is happy that another student is dead.

“We have to stop this from happening,” Cadle said.

Attorney Lynn hopes that community members will write to his client in jail. Letters must be addressed: Abel Cedeno, #2411705842, George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC), 15-15 Hazen Street, East Elmhurst, NY 11370. The envelope must have that and a return address on it but nothing additional.

Updated 2:20 pm, September 4, 2018
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Reader feedback

William Stribling says:
Beautiful and inclusive reporting by Andy Humm. Award worthy. Thank you Andy. The best I've read on this subject!
Oct. 17, 2017, 2:25 am
Sophie Cadle says:
Thank you Andy for your continuous support and loyalty to the LGBTQ community and youth. We are so grateful to have such an inclusive Journalist. #Justice4Abel
Oct. 17, 2017, 2:47 am
Todd T says:
I am impressed by your willingness to take such a public and active role in advocating for this boy, who, from the sound of it, was more than "bullied"--he was tortured and terrorized, and, as is sadly almost always the case, the torture was silently endorsed by teachers and school administrators who stood by when it occurred and instead of doing something--anything--to help or protect Abel Cedeno, they abandoned him and placed the responsibility for surviving the constant physical and verbal attacks on the victim. It's been many years since I attended public school in the 1970's and -80s, but I still carry emotional scars from the daily barrage of soul-killing insults, slurs and demeaning jeers that started in grade six and continued (along with the occasional physical assault) until I was able to graduate and get as far away from my torturers as possible. My experience with school officials (which seems to echo Abel's) showed me that they were ineffectual and uninterested in doing anything to stop what was happening, and sometimes even helped facilitate or participate in the abuse. Telling a scared, victimized kid to ignore his torturers or that he must figure out what it is about himself that causes his classmates to abuse him and change himself in order to stop the daily attacks is not only useless---it implies that the abuse is deserved and something over which the victim has control. If only he were less sissy, less weird, better-looking, could fit in better, didn't have a lisp, was a different ethnicity, came from a wealthier family, could play sports well, didn't have a physical disability, etc....THEN he wouldn't be targeted. THEN he wouldn't deserve it. THEN he wouldn't feel hated. THEN he would be considered valuable enough to be protected. THEN someone would listen to his pleas for help. I am honestly surprised that there are not more of these situations wherein a victim is forced to resort to using weapons to protect himself against perpetrators. When no one else will defend you, what else can you do when you are threatened? So the fact that you are speaking out publicly and showing that you understand and can empathize with what this boy endured must be a tremendous comfort to Abel and his family. I know I feel encouraged by your actions and impressed by your courage and determination. Despite the dismal track record of society in circumstances such as this, I still find that there's a tiny scrap of optimism left within me when I learn of role models like you stepping up and trying to make a difference.
Oct. 17, 2017, 4:33 am
JTT says:
Gay activists won't care about this case because the bullies involved are African-American thugs, not Irish-Catholic Colin Finnerty types. Outrage is always heavily dependent on who the culprits are.
Oct. 17, 2017, 1:57 pm
Perry Brass says:
This is a wonderful piece, Andy. It deserves a Pulitzer. It's a fascinating story, and I'm sure that there are many Abel Cedanos out there, just like there are an even larger number of Matthew McCrees. I went through a horrible bullying situation in junior high that I will never forget—none of us ever forget a past history of being bullied—but even after I defended myself against this bully, and hit him so hard that I broke his braces (we were 12 at the time), and my classmates said, "Well, he'll never bother you again," they were wrong. He continued. There is something about the sickness of bullies that is ingrained, and extremely difficult to change. I think Abel snapped because he finally understood this. Perry Brass
Oct. 18, 2017, 10:51 am
Ashley P says:
This young man should not be judged on his actions only, what happened to him that led him to do what he did was something that needs to be recognized. Bullying of any form should not be tolerated in any way, yet it happens to many people, especially people in the LGBT community. I am a Trans female and many times I am on my way to school or work and I am harassed by young boys of color, calling me all kinds of names. This is the problem that needs to be addressed. let Abel go Free
Oct. 18, 2017, 2:03 pm
Blanca E says:
It is a very sad story, it touched my heart! No one deserve to died this way, however school played an important role in this murder, they did not stopped the bulling and did nothing to prevent it. I personally believed that this poor kid did not want to kill nobody; he is suffering already.
Oct. 19, 2017, 9:53 am
Sloane says:
Great Thinking.
Oct. 19, 2017, 12:06 pm
JTT says:
The NY Times has a totally different take on this case. So..who knows ? Only time, and maybe a trial, will tell.
Oct. 19, 2017, 4:54 pm
Layla says:
He should go to jail for the crime he committed and I feel the school and his parents should have done more to help him if he was getting bullied.. The sister stated he didn’t want to change school because of his girlfriends when does the child make the decisions that was the biggest mistake right there.. it obvious that the so called bullying didn’t really effect him because he chose to stay in a school that he had trouble in.. no one deserves to be bullied and no one deserves to take another persons life.. when you commit a crime you have to deal with the consequences because if he gets off the Justice system is saying it’s okay to kill because someone did something to you.. when he was so called getting bullied his family should of been at the precinct the board of education.. our job as parents is to protect our children and when they are in the care of our schools it is there job to protect our children. The sister said she seen her brother going into a depression great job sister why didn’t you get him some help... This is wake up call for everyone because the school and the family is just as guilty as Cedeno who killed someone’s child and almost murdered another.. you bought a knife to protect yourself.. you are 18 years old you know right from wrong he could of spoke up and reported what was going on with him... Everyone need to stop making excuses for his actions..
Oct. 20, 2017, 10:38 pm
Tera says:
How can people try to justify Cedeno actions! A 18yr old killed a 15yr old and assulted a 16yr old student. These are somebody kids, we cannot send the message to our kids that they have the right to take the law into their own hands! School violence can not be tolerated in any capacity. This is a tragic story right or wrong no 15yr old deserves to die before they get a real chance to live. Its just unacceptable to me. I'm definitely against bullying of any kind, and feel terrible that Cedeno endured that treatment from his own classmates. The whole story is sad and unfortunate. Kids can be so immature and cruel and should be reprimanded for their actions. Death should never be a sentence for a child regardless of how people perceive that child.A child is still a child and somebody else's child. Weapons in schools should not be tolerated. These school need to do a better job protecting All of our children.*Sidenote*(Why was a 18yr old in class with a 15 and 16yr old anyway?)
Oct. 23, 2017, 10:08 am
cookies says:
For those who feels he should remain in jail are the same one who are OK with McCreed being apart of a gang.. Take a GOOD look at his mother rally interviews.... All those thugs in the background throwing up gang sign.. Sorry but this time thugs didn't win.. His mother is down with that lifestyle or else she wouldn't associate herself with this gang while being interview. She mess up as a parent.. Strop trying to milk some money for your gangster thug son death and own up to your own failure
Oct. 23, 2017, 1:47 pm
Guest says:
You obviously have not acquainted yourself with the facts in this case. You say, " he could of spoke up and reported what was going on with him..." well he did, the school and the woefully frighten teachers of the students with known gang affiliations, the other victims ( the bullies ) who were consequentially fatally injured by Cedeno, were more intimidating to school administrators than Cedeno's so called effeminate traits. Cedeno brought a knife to school because he knew other students were also armed with knifes and posed a physical threat to his well-being. Please tell me how many cases we hear of about gay teens attacking hetero-students, yet you want to apply your logic of blind justice for a teen who commits a crime, without taking into consideration any mitigating circumstances. This tragedy should never have happen if were to live in a society where youths are taught from a young age to respect one another instead of looking for acceptance through a gang affiliation, in order to fill a void of self respect and confidence through tolerance for all people, which needs to be taught at home. That would imply that parents would have to take time from their busy schedules and recognize that parenting involves sacrifices of their time too, for teaching their children right from wrong. You can't just have the attitude that, when my child is home, he/she is my problem, when at school, he/she is your problem "teacher."
Nov. 16, 2017, 3:29 am
Guest says:
well one reason is because teachers are afraid of their own shadow! Their attitude likely goes like this: I can deal with defending myself from a "sissy boy," but I can't defend myself from these bullies (esp.when I already know they are gang members) who might retaliate against me outside of the school, so it's better if I just look the other way.
Nov. 16, 2017, 3:44 am
GUEST says:
Nov. 29, 2017, 4:41 pm
Bren says:
This is just another example of a horrible school district who could have prevented this . If a student is repeadly being bullied why would he want to go to school. The other boys parents are saying he wasn't bullied.How does she know ??? This pisses me off the teachers are clearly scared which is absolutely horrible. Teachers should feel safe and be able to speak to there student freely but in this world we are sometime silent and hope the problem resolves. I lived in a neighborhood as a child in which guards were at almost every door with medal detectors and seen students totally disrespect teachers. I can only imagine other areas this being even more of an issue. I feel absolutely horrible for the boy that died but if it is true this child was dealing with being bullied continuously. He is going to snap It's not the right thing to do but I am sure at this school it wasn't an option. I hope the teachers speak up and leave that school. When can we live in a world when we wouldn't have to worry about these things.
Dec. 11, 2017, 11:14 am

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