Shoot­ing death

Af­ter serv­ing fed­eral, state time, Eli­jah Cancer strove to make Albany a safer place

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken­neth C. Crowe II and Casey Seiler

Com­mu­nity mourns Albany man who strove to stop vi­o­lence.

“I lost nu­mer­ous friends to gun vi­o­lence,” Eli­jah Cancer told an in­ter­viewer just a few days ago. “Vi­o­lence, sadly, has been part of my life.”

Cancer’s ef­forts to fight the vi­o­lence rip­ping through his com­mu­nity — and find, in the process, a mea­sure of re­demp­tion for his own past crimes — ended with his death by gun­fire early Sat­ur­day morn­ing in the

South End.

Albany po­lice of­fi­cers re­sponded just af­ter 3 a.m. to Te­u­nis

Street be­tween

Sec­ond and Third av­enues for a re­port of shots fired. They dis­cov­ered Cancer, who had been shot three times in the torso. He was pro­nounced dead af­ter be­ing taken to Albany Med­i­cal Cen­ter Hos­pi­tal — the city’s sev­enth homi­cide of 2018.

A sec­ond man, 31, had been shot in the arm, and was trans­ported to Albany Med

with non-life threat­en­ing in­juries. Po­lice have not iden­ti­fied him.

In a re­lease, Albany po­lice said that a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gested the shoot­ings fol­lowed “a large al­ter­ca­tion at the lo­ca­tion in­volv­ing a group of girls and that the vic­tims may have been at­tempt­ing to break up the fight when they were shot.”

Cancer’s death dur­ing an ap­par­ent at­tempt to quell vi­o­lence is es­pe­cially tragic con­sid­er­ing his ef­forts to turn his life around.

Just 18 years old in Au­gust 2004, Cancer was crit­i­cally in­jured af­ter be­ing shot six times — in the leg, fore­arm, chest and stom­ach — near Clin­ton and Alexan­der streets, just two blocks from Sat­ur­day morn­ing’s crime scene. He suf­fered in­ter­nal bleed­ing and a col­lapsed lung, and was treated at the same hos­pi­tal where he would be pro­nounced dead al­most 14 years later.

In 2009, Cancer was ar­rested along with two dozen other mem­bers and as­so­ci­ates of the

South End-based Orig­i­nal Gangsta Kil­las gang, which had for nearly a decade con­ducted a vi­cious crime spree of drug deal­ing, rob­bery and vi­o­lence. He and two other gang mem­bers pleaded guilty in 2010 to rack­e­teer­ing con­spir­acy. Af­ter serv­ing fed­eral and state time, he was re­leased in 2016.

Les­lie Phe­lan, who works with the South

End Com­mu­nity Out­reach Cen­ter and runs

The An­chor thrift store on Clin­ton Av­enue, met Cancer more than a decade ago when he was locked up in Albany County jail on ear­lier charges. She stayed in touch with him through­out his in­car­cer­a­tion fol­low­ing his 2010 guilty plea.

“He did some crimes, and he paid for his crimes,” Phe­lan said in an in­ter­view Sat­ur­day.

When Cancer was re­leased, he told her, “I don’t want to live my life like this any­more.”

He be­came an out­reach worker for Trin­ity Al­liance Albany 518 SNUG, work that he de­scribed less than a week ago in an in­ter­view with WOOC’S “La­bor Talk,” a pro­gram spon­sored by Troy’s Sanc­tu­ary for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

“When there’s a shoot­ing in the com­mu­nity or there’s some type of act of vi­o­lence or death, we gather around and we rally,” Cancer said of SNUG’S work in the in­ter­view, recorded June 30.

“We ask the com­mu­nity to come out and sup­port us and ba­si­cally try to bring aware­ness to what hap­pened and pre­vent any re­tal­i­a­tions or any fur­ther acts of vi­o­lence,” he said.

Cancer also talked about work­ing with at-risk youths to help them find jobs and apart­ments. He said that as an out­reach worker, he walks a line so he isn’t seen as work­ing for the po­lice. It was the only job, he said, in which a felony con­vic­tion serves as a rec­om­men­da­tion.

Dur­ing the June 30 in­ter­view, Cancer said, “The sum­mer hit (and) peo­ple started go­ing crazy. Over the past cou­ple of weeks there haven’t been any shoot­ings and there haven’t been any homi­cides.”

“It comes in patches,” he said. “Win­ter’s usu­ally quiet. Sum­mer’s usu­ally riot.”

“I want peo­ple to know there were so many pos­i­tives about his life,” Phe­lan said, adding that Cancer had been given a fa­ther­hood award from Amer­i­can Lit­tle League, which has its home field at Krank Park — just two blocks from the scene of his death.

A large vigil on Te­u­nis Street lasted all day Sat­ur­day, at­tract­ing scores of vis­i­bly emo­tional res­i­dents, in­clud­ing sev­eral who ad­vised mem­bers of the me­dia to va­cate the area in or­der to al­low the com­mu­nity to grieve in pri­vate.

Ac­cord­ing to an obituary sub­mit­ted Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, funeral ser­vices for Cancer will be held at noon on Sat­ur­day at Met­ro­pol­i­tan New Tes­ta­ment Mis­sion­ary Baptist Church, 105 Sec­ond St. in Albany. Vis­i­ta­tion will be­gin at 10 a.m.

Po­lice did not iden­tify the man who was wounded along­side Cancer.

Cancer’s death comes only two days af­ter the killing of Rashaun Byrd, a 29-year-old Albany man who was stabbed to death Thurs­day morn­ing — part of a five-hour erup­tion of vi­o­lence in Ar­bor Hill and West Hill that also re­sulted in six gun­shot in­juries.

Po­lice are ask­ing any­one with in­for­ma­tion about this in­ci­dent to call the De­tec­tive Divi­sion at 518462-8039. Anony­mous tips may also be sub­mit­ted on­line at www.cap­i­tal re­gion­crimestop­ or by down­load­ing the free P3 Tips mo­bile app.

Tips that lead to an ar­rest may be el­i­gi­ble for a cash re­ward of up to $1,500.

Wil­lie Terry / Sanc­tu­ary For In­de­pen­dent Me­dia

Eli­jah Cancer, 32, was shot dead in Albany’s South End early Sat­ur­day morn­ing. Po­lice say their ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gests Cancer and an­other shoot­ing vic­tim were at­tempt­ing to break up a large-scale fight when gun­fire broke out.

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