It is something I inherited from my dad. Whenever there is a notorious crime, I say a silent prayer that the perpetrator is not Latino. With all the social and economic problems we face, the last thing our community needs is shame and humiliation at the hands of one of our own.

My prayers went unanswered this week as I probed law enforcement and other sources to determine the identity of the two young punks who crushed a wonderful lady’s skull last Sunday evening. One is a Rosario, the other a Hernández. Both are 12-year old wannabe gangsters without dads at home.

The preteens did this hideous crime by tossing a Target shopping cart off a fourth-floor shopping mall walkway. The heavy cart was traveling as fast as a speeding car when it crashed into the unsuspecting head of 47-year old philanthropist and real estate broker Marion Salmon Hedges, leaving the mother of two in critical condition. She is in a medically induced coma in the Intensive Care Unit of Harlem Hospital, where she is expected to survive although the severity of her neurological injuries will not be known for weeks. At best, she faces a long, hard road to rehabilitation.

Even before I found their names, I suspected the worst. Once the 12-year old alleged perpetrators were identified as coming from the big Spanish Harlem public housing projects, Clinton and Washington Houses, located near the mall I knew I could write the script.

Two unsupervised kids, part of the 52 percent of all New York Latino families without a father at home, went wilding with their similarly fatherless friends. Only black families have a higher rate of single parent households, 66 percent in New York, according to the Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” program.

Here’s how this juvenile crime happened:  

It is nearly 6 p.m. on the Sunday before Halloween, and the Costco and Target stores in the new urban mall are crammed with shoppers and with neighborhood kids hanging out. This roving gang of youngsters starts horsing around by dropping their gooey Slushees off the soaring fourth-story walkway that connects the big box outlet stores to the adjacent parking garage. It is so much fun watching their drinks explode on the sidewalk below; two of the younger boys in the group apparently decide to throw the shopping cart over the precipice. One of the older kids, a 14-year-old, tries to stop them -- but the young perps persist, finally picking up a cart and throwing it over the railing. They probably do it without malicious intent; they don’t intend to hit anybody. But they do it with reckless disregard for the safety of anyone below.

When our community leaders ask for help for our at risk youngsters, they should start with their missing dads.

- Geraldo Rivera

How bitterly ironic that the cart smashes into the skull of a saintly socialite who devotes her life to helping youngsters like the two arrested in this case. In fact she had been in the store purchasing huge amounts of Halloween candy for a block party where all area children are welcome, and for the Stanley Isaacs Center, which helps underprivileged neighborhood kids. To make matters worse, Marion Hedges’ 13-year old son Dayton was walking alongside his mother at the time. Unhurt, he must now deal with having watched his mom crushed and collapsing in a spreading pool of blood as a doctor who happened to be passing by frantically revives her in the face of catastrophic injury.

Charged as juveniles, as they should have been, the 12-year olds have been turned over to Family Court. Facing allegations of felony assault and misdemeanor possession of a weapon, they face perhaps 18-months incarceration. The slight punishment will outrage those who feel the book should be thrown at the children. But know this: their lives are ruined anyway. Once imprisoned, they will only become more seasoned criminals upon release.  

Why am I sadly almost certain of their desperately melancholy fate? Because when they stood before the Family Court judge, no father stood with their beleaguered mothers. The men who brought them into the world had moved on. When our community leaders ask for help for our at risk youngsters, they should start with their missing dads.

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino. 

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