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    NEW YORK'S HOMETOWN NEWSPAPER® — Learn About Subscriptions
    NEW YORK'S HOMETOWN NEWSPAPER® — Learn About Subscriptions
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    ‘Why was he there?’: Mom searches for answers after her son is killed at party in shut-down Brooklyn bar

    The devastated mom of a slain Brooklyn man said she’s desperate to know the details of her son’s final hours four days before Christmas — including why he went to an illegal party at a bar shuttered long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Johanson Smith, 32, a father of three, knew not to step foot in the Milk River lounge in Crown Heights, and rarely went anywhere without his siblings, his mother, Milagro Alicea, told the Daily News on Sunday.

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    On Dec. 21, a gunman opened fire inside the bar at Atlantic Ave. near Grand Ave., fatally hitting Smith in the chest and a second man in the buttocks. Witnesses gave varying accounts: The gunman was either in a wheelchair, or was pushing someone in a wheelchair, cops said.

    “I keep asking a bunch of questions and they’re not getting me anywhere, they’re just making me angry,” Alicea said. “What happened? What was the purpose of him being there? That’s not a place for you to go. He knows that, nobody goes in that place. Why was he there?”

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    Police told her Smith was in the bar for maybe 15 minutes before the shooting erupted.

    Johanson Smith, 32, was shot and killed on Dec. 21, 2020, at Milk River, a club in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, open despite coronavirus restrictions.
    Johanson Smith, 32, was shot and killed on Dec. 21, 2020, at Milk River, a club in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, open despite coronavirus restrictions.

    “We don’t know what happened, I’m just still trying to figure that out. He never goes out by himself. If he doesn’t go out with his brothers, then he’ll go home,” she said.

    Cops have made no arrests.

    Alicea described Milk River as a trouble spot, and public records show its liquor license expired in July 2019. The bar’s name was removed from the building’s awnings later that year.

    But neighbors say parties have been thrown inside that space in recent weeks, despite the city’s COVID-19 rules.

    Alicea described Milk River as a trouble spot, and public records show its liquor license expired in July 2019 and wasn’t renewed. The bar’s name was removed from the building’s awnings later that year.
    Alicea described Milk River as a trouble spot, and public records show its liquor license expired in July 2019 and wasn’t renewed. The bar’s name was removed from the building’s awnings later that year. (Theodore Parisienne/for New York Daily News)

    Smith was the second-oldest of nine siblings and has three children of his own, she said. His youngest daughter turned 5 the day he died.

    “The 11 and 10 year old [understand]; the 5 year old, she is still like ‘Where’s my dad?’” said his youngest brother, Gabriel Allen, 23.

    The little girl needed to go to the hospital Saturday to be treated for asthma and Smith usually accompanied her whenever she was sick, Alicea said. “She was asking for her dad because he always took her to the hospital,” she said.

    Mourners placed dozens of candles outside Smith’s Bushwick apartment building.

    “He loved music, he loved to party,” Allen said. “He loved to play ball in the park. He loved to cook, he got good oxtail.”

    Neighbors say parties have been thrown inside that space in recent weeks, despite the city’s COVID-19 rules.
    Neighbors say parties have been thrown inside that space in recent weeks, despite the city’s COVID-19 rules. (Theodore Parisienne/for New York Daily News)

    Smith traveled often and worked as a handyman, his brother said.

    He loved reggae music and was a big fan of Pop Smoke, the rising Brooklyn rapper fatally shot in Los Angeles in February, his mother said, adding that he and the slain musician were friends.

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    “We FaceTimed morning, noon and night; that was my baby,” said Alicea, 55, who lives in New Jersey. “I didn’t get to see him that night, we were just texting.”

    The family celebrated Thanksgiving together and were looking forward to Christmas, which Smith’s mother described as his favorite holiday.

    “I was trying to play jokes with him saying ‘I’m not coming,’ ‘I couldn’t catch a train’ or ‘there was a lockdown in Jersey,’ ” Alicea said. “He was just happy I was coming.”

    She added, sadly, “They took my son away.”

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