Family came first for Valley Streamer Ray Wishropp. Friends and relatives said the father of seven was often with his children, and almost always had a smile on his face.
“He was a good father, and he always said hi to me,” neighbor Esther Guartafierro said. “He was good with his kids, and he was just that kind of loving and nice person.”
“One thing to know about my cousin is that he was an incredibly strong family man,” a maternal cousin, Gordon Stevenson, said of Wishropp.
On April 20, however, those seven children, including two daughters who attend Valley Stream South High School, were robbed of a future with their father. At around 11:30 a.m., 31-year-old Gabriel DeWitt Wilson, of Hempstead, allegedly walked into the West Hempstead Stop & Shop where Wishropp, 49, worked as a manager, with a .380 caliber pistol, and shot and killed him, while wounding two others.
Police said that Wilson, an employee at the Stop & Shop, had met with Wishropp an hour before the shooting to request a transfer to another supermarket location. Stephen Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Department, reported that Wilson had had a number of disputes with fellow workers at the store.
“Gabriel was a troubled employee,” Fitzpatrick said at a news conference on April 21, a day after the shooting and Wilson’s arrest. Wilson was charged with one count of second-degree murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Neighbors expressed shock at Wishropp’s death. Guartafierro, who for years lived across from Wishropp’s home on Montague Street, said she had just seen him the previous evening. She was watering her plants when he arrived home, got out of his car and greeted her with a wave and a hello. “That was the last time I saw him,” she said. “It’s just so heartbreaking to know that he’s gone.”
Gus Vicari, Wishropp’s next-door neighbor for 12 years, said he had anxiously followed the news reports of the shooting, knowing that Wish-ropp worked at the supermarket. “When we found out it was Ray that was shot, we were very shocked,” Vicari said.
Wishropp’s killing came during a spate of recent mass shootings in the U.S. There have been seven so far this year, starting on Jan. 9, when five people were killed and two injured in what police described as a “murderous rampage” in Chicago and Evanston, Ill., according to news outlets. Mass shootings are typically defined as having four or more victims.
The frequency of the killings was not lost on Wishropp’s neighbors. “It’s getting so crazy,” Guartafierro said, “and I never thought something like this would impact someone right in our backyard, so close to home.”
Vicari said the incident raised concerns about the safety of retail employees and shoppers everywhere, recalling that his wife was held at gunpoint 20 years ago when she worked as a manager at a Kids R Us. “It triggers a lot of anxiety for me and my wife,” he said. You never know what can happen when you go to any store. It makes you think twice about going shopping.”
Wishropp was known to be friendly, kind and fun-loving. Stevenson, who was raised and lives in Canada, recounted his first meeting with his older cousin in the mid-1990s, when Stevenson was 12. Wishropp lived in Far Rockaway at the time, and was eager to show off the large subwoofer speakers he had installed in his car. He introduced younger Stevenson to the hip-hop artist Notorious B.I.G., who himself had recently become the victim of gun violence.
“That was my first introduction to rap,” Stevenson said, and one of his fondest memories of his cousin.
Guartafierro said that Wishropp often helped dig out his neighbors during snowstorms and shoveled their walkways, and recalled how he helped console a neighbor whose father had recently died, even though Wishropp had just moved to the block. “He was the kind of person who would help if anyone needed it,” Guartafierro said.
“He helped everybody and anybody,” Stevenson added. “He had a big smile on his face, and always did it out of the kindness of his heart.”
With Wishropp gone, attention has turned to his children and how they will be supported going forward. The two teenage daughters who live with him, Guartafierro said, were devastated. “Those two girls loved him very much,” she said.
South High School Principal Maureen Henry sent a notification to the school community that checks or money orders could be dropped off at the school’s main office, but asked that donors write “Wishropp Family” in the memo section. Stevenson set up a GoFundMe page for the family — in particular, he said, for one of Wishropp’s youngest children, who Stevenson said has special needs. Additionally, the South High cheer team set up a Meal Train to help pay for food for the family.
He and Wishropp were both avid gardeners, Vicari said, and he had planned to buy plants for their gardens, but now, he said, “That will never happen.”
Nakeem Grant and Nicole Alcindor contributed to this story.