One year later, fatal shooting of Preston Gamble remains unresolved

It’s been a full year since 15-year-old Riverhead High School student Preston Gamble was fatally shot in Calverton — steps from his family’s front door and in front of several witnesses — but to date there have been no arrests in the case.

Still, Chakara Jones, Preston’s mother, is hopeful that could soon change.

“I’m told they have a suspect in mind and there will be an arrest but they can’t give me a timeframe,” she said in an interview this week. “They can’t tell you too much because that can jeopardize the case. So I’m basically just waiting on a phone call.”

Ms. Jones said she’s been talking regularly with the detective assigned to Preston’s case.

“I’m going to fight for his name to the end,” she said. “I’m on the detectives’ asses, and they’re doing the best that they can.”

Citing a longstanding policy of not speaking publicly about ongoing homicide investigations, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department declined comment.

Ms. Jones, a single mother of six, said an arrest in the case is important to her.

“It’s not going to help, but I want justice,” she said. “It’s not going to close the wound, but at least I’ll know the person that took him away from us is in jail.”

The spring of 2023 was a tough time for Preston and for his mother, Ms. Jones said in an interview last fall marking the six-month anniversary of her son’s death. He’d been suspended from school in the fall of 2022 for what Ms. Jones described as “playfully harassing” a female student — but in the company of a friend with a knife.

In order to return to school for the spring semester, he would have to pass all his classes remotely. Since the suspension, Ms. Jones had been homeschooling Preston and coordinating daily with a Riverhead High School teacher liaison.

“He wanted to go back to school … he loved school,” she said. “He missed school. He was learning from his mistakes. We were on top of him. He was doing good.” 

Every weekday afternoon around 3:30, buses full of children return from school to the condominium complex where Ms. Jones and her family live. Preston would routinely finish his homeschool work and head off to meet his siblings and friends at a nearby bus stop — waiting on the same patch of grass where he and other kids in the neighborhood had been hanging out for years, she said. 

A memorial for Preston Gamble, a Riverhead teen who was fatally shot last year. (Chris Francescani photo)

She said a mother and daughter, who had moved in only days earlier to the condominium adjacent to the patch of grass, had complained to the complex’s superintendent about the hang-out spot. 

The daughter’s boyfriend was among what Ms. Jones described a group of “grown men” who were involved in the dispute with her son, she said.

“From what I know, my son was standing on [the grass] where he always stands, and there was a guy — a man — being aggressive to my son and the other ones that were standing out there, so they had a little bit of words.”

She could hear the tumult from her second-floor window less than 200 feet away, and overheard as “some grown-ups went out and diffused it.”

“After the grown-ups came and deescalated the situation, [and left], they started up with the kids again,” she said, urging them off the patch of grass. Ms. Jones said one of the men arguing with her son apparently contacted someone nearby by phone, who arrived minutes later. 

“I look out my window and I see the kids all coming together and I’m like, ‘What?’ It sounded like they were fighting.”

She yelled out the window to her brother, who was outside: “I thought everything was okay, I thought it was over.”

“And then I heard a pop,” she said.

“This man came up the hill in [a black truck] and just shot,” she said, adding that her son “must have exchanged words [with the man in the truck], but when he pulled out a gun, the kids were scared. 

“From what I have heard he shot at the ground, not meaning to hit Preston, but why would you shoot at a kid anyway?“ she said. “This is a kid! These were grown men!”

Ms. Jones said that her account of the shooting is based on what neighbors told her. 

“Why would you point a gun if you’re not meaning to shoot somebody? If you’re scaring [someone], shoot in the air … You could have hit your friend, but, no, you hit my son.”

Last Friday, on the one-year anniversary of Preston’s death, Ms. Jones and her children got together with Preston’s friends to honor his memory.

“I cooked food, we had a gathering, we released balloons and [his friends] fixed up his memorial,” she said this week, referring to a plaque his friends and family created last year that hangs on the fence of the basketball court at the condominium complex where the family lives.

She said it’s “still hard to talk about” Preston’s death. “We can’t even do that yet, can’t talk about it.

“Look at this picture,” she said, holding up a silk flag adorned with Preston’s smiling face.

“I can look at this picture, but this is as long as I can look at it without crying,” she said. “I can’t watch videos of him. I still can’t buy certain foods at the grocery store. It’s not the same. Nothing’s the same, and nothing will be the same.”

She said several of her children still attend counseling regularly, but that she has yet to seek it for herself. 

“I went straight back to work, truthfully,” she said. “I know I need counseling, but I just haven’t signed up for anything yet.

“We just try to adjust to him not being here anymore. It’s been a year, but it just feels like yesterday.”