The murder of 90-year-old Cuddy Briskin last week sent shock waves through Squirrel Hill and the entire city, as many wondered what could drive someone to kill an elderly man.
“It’s just an awful tragedy; one of those inexplicable things that happens in society,” said Raymond Baum, president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, and a longtime friend of Briskin. “You want to do whatever you can to never see that again. We can’t speculate as to why or how, we can just hope the police come up with a solution.”
While it is impossible to say the community would never again see such a crime, the incident for this part of town was an isolated one, according to Pittsburgh police, as Squirrel Hill maintains a low violent crime rate.
Since April 1, 2010, 10 assaults in Squirrel Hill have been reported.
“We have had no crime trends in Squirrel Hill other than the theft from vehicles that’s been plaguing the community,” said Officer Matthew White, of Pittsburgh Police, Zone 4.
Briskin was found in his home on Fernwald Road in south Squirrel Hill by a relative on April 6. He had sustained blows and had a plastic bag over his head. Briskin lived alone in his home on the quiet, tranquil street, following the death of his wife, Ethel, last December.
He had operated the family-owned Briskin Furs until 1996, when he passed the business to his nephew, Ken Briskin.
As of press time, police were, “following up on some leads that we have,” White said. “Right now we’re still in the middle of the investigation.”
Though the murder does not represent an upswing in violent crimes in Squirrel Hill, the center of Jewish activity in the city, it has pushed many to talk of ways to keep the neighborhood safe.
Violent crime “sometimes spurs more interest in our safety patrol,” Baum said. “We’re always interested in more people who will drive around at night just to see what’s going on.”
The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition’s safety patrol works in cooperation with Pittsburgh police, as, “their eyes,” according to Baum.
Zone 4 Commander Kathy Degler agreed, saying the patrol, “really does its job to get around and see what’s going on. We can’t be everywhere — the patrol helps to keep the neighborhood safe.”
“Keep doors and windows locked at all times,” advised White. “Don’t leave your GPS suction cup on the windshield of your car; it’s a ‘come rob me’ sticker. Call 911 if you feel suspicious about anything. Don’t talk yourself out of calling 911 — you’ve got that gut feeling for a reason.”
Not accounting for Briskin’s murder, “education and public safety are at the low end of the list of concerns” of Squirrel Hill residents, Baum said. “People are concerned, but there’s no anxiety.”
The murder “is very shocking and upsetting, but I think it’s an isolated, unique incident,” said Baum. “Squirrel Hill is an amazingly livable, wonderful place. But it’s still probably a good idea to lock the door at night.”
Police remain confident that the murderer will be apprehended.
“It’s a sad situation,” said Degler. “It will get solved.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)