Man fatally shot at his 24th birthday party after returning to his old … – New York Daily News

A man who begged his family to move “out of the ‘hood” was shot to death during his own birthday party after returning to his old Queens neighborhood to celebrate, his heartbroken mother told the Daily News Sunday.
Justin Baerga turned 24 June 28 and threw the bash Saturday night inside the D-Touch Collision Inc. auto body shop in Richmond Hill. He was close friends with the shop’s husband-and-wife owners and about 10 people joined him for the intimate celebration.
About 9:40 p.m. a gunman arrived and turned the party into a bloody horror, shooting Baerga in the head and blasting a 25-year-old man in the right leg, cops said.
Justin Baerga, a 24-year-old man who begged his family to move “out of the hood,” was shot to death when he returned to his bald Queens neighborhood to attend his own birthday party inside an auto body shop. (Courtesy of family)
One of the shop’s owners, who didn’t give her name, said she was told by police the metal door of the body shop was pulled halfway down and the partiers had just taken a group photo when the ski-mask clad gunman squatted and began shooting from just outside.
Police said two teenage girls suffered graze wounds but declined medical attention, though the auto shop owner told the Daily News they actually just suffered scrapes and scratches from diving for cover.
The gunman ran off and has not been caught.
Baerga’s mother, Peggy Herrera, cooked homemade chicken empanadas and dropped them off at the party at her son’s request. “Thank you, Mommy. I love you,” Baerga told her, she recalled.
Herrera left but turned around when she remembered she needed her son to sign a medical form. He agreed to dash out and meet her nearby the party. He didn’t show up and didn’t answer her texts so she returned to the party to check on him — and came upon first responders trying to revive her son.
“It broke my heart,” Herrera said. “I couldn’t believe that was my son. I couldn’t believe it.”
She wanted to rush to her son’s side but was stopped by an officer at the scene, she said.
“Put you hands off of me, I’m his mother,” she says she told the officer.
The shooter confronted a group of revelers inside the auto shop on 89th Ave. near 129th St. in Jamaica, opening fire about 9:40 p.m., police said. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)
Baerga was a talented athlete who played football and made an impression with his clever, joking demeanor, his mother said. But he struggled with depression and trauma throughout his life, starting when he and his mother found his father dead in his bed from cancer 17 years ago.
“Mommy, get me out of the ‘hood,” Herrera recalled her son telling her a few years ago. They moved to Long Island a few months ago, hoping for a fresh start away from their neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.
“It’s heartbreaking because the whole purpose of moving out of the ‘hood was for us to be together,” Herrera said. “Every decision I made in my life as a mother was for us. It was never for me.”
“I was his greatest advocate,” she added. “I fought hard for my son.”
Baerga had five arrests on his record, including a pending attempted murder case from a Sept. 7, 2020, incident in which he is accused of stabbing a 20-year-old man in the neck during a fight in Richmond Hill.
Last year, Baerga joined a class action lawsuit against the city and the NYPD after police officers responding to his home forced him to be hospitalized against his and his mother’s will. The suit seeks to reform how the police handle people having a mental health crisis.
According to the lawsuit, Herrera called 911 because her son was experiencing “mental issues” and specifically said she wanted an ambulance “not the police,” insisting her son wasn’t violent.
But a group of NYPD officers showed up anyway ahead of the ambulance. When Baerga locked himself in the apartment, the cops forced down the door and allegedly beat him and dragged him out in cuffs — arresting his mother when she tried to block the door, according to the lawsuit.
Herrera is a longtime criminal justice activist, fighting for alternatives to incarceration and involved in the campaign to close Rikers Island.
“Those young men, whoever did this to my son, I’m sure they need help too,” she said of her son’s killer. “But I’m also sure that there needs to be justice served.”
Since high school, Baerga did various jobs, most recently working in construction and as a parking valet attendant.
“He was such a smart, funny kid,” his mother said. “Everybody loved him because he was a jokester.”
The husband-and-wife auto shop owners echoed that sentiment.
“He was a sweet, sweet guy. He had two cute little dimples,” the wife said. “He was young and full of life. He had that cute baby face. … He had so much respect for us. He called me ‘Mom,’ he called him “Pops.’”
Baerga’s former football team, the Jamaica Bulldogs, once played during a half-time break at a game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets, his mother proudly said.
“Our house is going to be super quiet without him,” she said. “He would laugh. He would play with the dog, he would be on the floor with him. He was just a funny guy. Everybody who knew him knew he was funny. He was the life of the party.”
Copyright © 2023, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2023, New York Daily News


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