QUEENS, NY – On December 24, 2020, Ritawantee (Rita) Persaud, a popular Indo-Caribbean vocalist and beloved devotee of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Jamaica, Queens was killed by a hit-and-run driver who has not yet been apprehended.
Persaud, who was 54 years old, was just a few blocks from her Ozone Park home sitting in the back of an Uber, a black Toyota Camry, when the 50-year-old driver of the vehicle made a left on Rockaway Boulevard and 103rd Avenue and was hit by a man driving a Lamborghini Urus SUV joined by a passenger at approximately 7:05pm on Thursday. The Uber driver was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center with injuries, and was subsequently listed in stable condition. The Lamborghini passenger was also taken to Jamaica Hospital in stable condition. The driver of the Lamborghini fled the scene on foot. Marijuana was found in the Lamborghini.
The fatal accident occurred just steps away from the Church of The Nativity of The Blessed Virgin Mary on Christmas Eve night. The reckless act of this individual caused the death of a community staple and has devastated Hindu Indo-Caribbeans the world over. Last Sunday night, at least 150 individuals, including the Shaanti Bhavan congregation as well as Persaud’s family and friends, gathered in front of the scene of the heinous crime to hold a vigil in Persaud’s honor. A makeshift memorial of candles and posters full of prayers was created and bhajans (Hindu hymns) were sung by attendees. Each night since Persaud’s passing, at least 800 individuals have joined virtual wakes in her honor.
As Persaud’s family and the community grieves, Persaud’s killer remains at large. We join together to support Persaud’s bereaved family as one united Queens community in calling for swift justice for the late Rita Persaud. #JusticeforRitaPersaud
STATEMENT FROM THE FAMILY OF THE LATE RITAWANTEE PERSAUD
The relatives of the late Ritawantee Persaud (Rita) would like to extend sincere and profound gratitude to the general public for the generous outpouring of grief and support over the tragic demise of Rita on Christmas Eve.
The overwhelming grief in the community is testimony of the life of selfless service that Rita lived in the last 54 years. She touched the lives of thousands and created a unique and distinct sense of belonging with each person she met in her short lifespan. She was a beautiful spirit that lived to serve others. She found great joy in spreading happiness to others through service initiatives in the Hindu West Indian Community in New York and further abroad. She mentored and schooled both adults and children in the community and was always the first to offer a hand in help to those in need. She leaves behind an entire community in shock and grief.
Born in Guyana, Rita migrated to New York in 1999 and immediately found broad based acceptance in the West Indian Hindu Community. While she spent her days as an accountant, all of her evenings and weekends were spent in the Hindu community in service projects (seva).
Rita leaves behind an entire community that will miss and grieve for her. In her home, she leaves behind her 25-year-old niece Darshanie, her brothers Glen, Jaio and Deochand, and her nephew Danesh.
The perpetrators of this senseless death of Rita must be apprehended and brought to justice as soon as possible. We are imploring the District Attorney and all law enforcement to utilize their power and ensure justice is served. We are also calling on anyone with information about the identity of the missing driver to share with law enforcement.
Pandit Manoj Jadubans, Priest and Spiritual Leader of Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, said: “The late and dear Rita Persaud was not only a prominent singer in our community, a youth leader, friend, sister but she was my right hand. Rita, or “Blacks” as I called her, was my not my sister by birth but a sister through our love and commitment for our religion, community and the youth. We worked hand in hand to achieve great things for all. Her tragic death has impacted many but the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir will definitely be impacted hard. This has been a devastating loss and it would be unjust not to apprehend the person that was responsible for this vigilant crime. It is very important that together we do not rest until the driver is found. The great Lord knows and what is in the dark will eventually come to light as Rita was the light to many.”
Members of the Naujavaan Mandalee Youth Group of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, collectively said: “Aunty Reets was not only our mentor, music teacher, or community leader. She was much much more than that. She was our second Mom, both on and off the clock. It takes a selfless, humble, and gracious soul to love so many children who were not in any way related to her biologically, the way she loved us. She was the glue that held us together. Our temple will never be the same again. There will be no one to fill that void in our hearts.
We are all shattered and devastated after this tragic news of her passing, but more so the horrific and brutal way she went. None of us will ever be the same again. We are scarred for life. We as a group did countless acts of community service (seva) and Aunty Reets was always there right beside us to execute to perfection. Just thinking of her never walking through the doors of our temple, or attending family gatherings, or community service, or her kindness to others, or her beautiful smile, just gives us the shivers. An essential part of who we are is no longer in that physical form, and that is hard to accept.
Our Beloved Aunty Reets is no more because of a reckless and selfish driver who did not even have the decency to call the ambulance and stay at the crime scene to take responsibility for his blunder.
We need law enforcement to find this man and hold him accountable, so justice can be served. Just imagine, our virtual wakes have over a thousand people logging on for which 75% is not biologically related to Aunty Reets, this speaks volume of the kind of person she was and how our community is affected and devastated. WE NEED JUSTICE NOW!”
Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq., founder of South Queens Women’s March and co-founder of Sadhana, said: “It has been five long days of our entire community grieving the loss of our precious Aunty Reets; five days that her cowardly killer remains on the loose. We need justice, and we need it now.” Kilawan-Narine further said, “Aunty Rita left an indelible impact on so many of us, encouraging us to use our voices to chant God’s glories the entire duration of her life. Today we use our voices to demand justice and call on our South Queens community to help locate and ultimately convict the spineless person responsible for taking Aunty Reets’ life.”
“Aunty Rita Persaud devoted her life to serving our community & uplifting our youth. She advocated for change, singing her way into everyone’s heart planting her love and message of equality and peace. She mobilized our youths, including myself International Dancer Zaman, Sundari, The Indian Goddess, and many of my fellow artists to serve humanity,” said Mohamed Afzal (Zaman) Amin, founder of the Taranng Dance Troupe. “Justice for Aunty Rita Persaud must be served.”
“Rita was the nightingale of our community that left her footprints with her melodious voice everywhere she went. Her loss is very tragic to many and community fundraisers will not be the same without her melodious voice and her charitable outreach. I am humbly asking our representatives of the community, our law enforcements and those that have power to find justice for this beautiful soul,” said Vijay Bisram, Founder of VAP – The Gateway to Cultural Advancement in NYC.
Mohamed Q. Amin, LGBTQ Activist and Founder of Caribbean Equality Project said, “A community is mourning the tragic death of Rita Persaud, a prominent Indo-Caribbean leader, artist, and a motherly figure to young people at Shanti Bhavan Mandir. As we collectively grieve the loss of a beloved cultural preservationist, we join the Guyanese immigrant community in South Queens to call for the swift apprehension of the cowardly driver whose reckless action claimed the life of Aunty Rita and leaves a damaging impact on all the survivors.”
Several elected officials also denounced the crime and expressed the urgency of apprehending the individual responsible for taking Persaud’s life:
New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams of Council District 28, where Shaanti Bhavan Mandir is located, said, “The tragic death of Rita Persaud has caused immeasurable pain to so many. The harm created by this despicable, cowardly act must not go unpunished. We seek swift justice in Rita’s name and legacy.”
New York State Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer-Amato, whose district the tragic accident occurred in, stated, “The untimely passing of Rita Persaud on Christmas Eve was tragic in every way, and I am confident that the 102nd Precinct will apprehend her killer and bring them to justice swiftly. I want to thank all of the first responders who came to the scene, and to our community for showing their support to the Persaud family during this. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to Rita’s entire family during this horrible time.”
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic and preventable death of Ms. Rita Persaud. Ms. Persaud, a well-known and respected member of her community, deserves justice and for the driver to be held accountable. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends and members of the community,” said New York State Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson.
New York State Assemblywoman-Elect Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian American woman elected to a state office, said: “My heart breaks at the tragic passing of beloved community leader Ritwantee Persaud on Christmas Eve. I have spoken to Captain Fidacaro of the 102nd Precinct several times in the past few days, and I am confident that the NYPD will use its full resources to ensure the perpetrator is apprehended and brought to justice.”
“It has been a year full of despair and grief, with yet another avoidable death of Aunty Rita. I know the authorities will investigate this fully and seek justice for this family. But even that will not bring her back. We must slow down, please,” said Richard David, friend and District Leader (AD 31).
If you have any information on the driver of the Lamborghini that took the life of Rita Persaud, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or visit nypdcrimestoppers.com.