updated 10/30/2007 10:04:33 PM ET 2007-10-31T02:04:33

Police are investigating whether the slaying of a man who was shot to death in a playground in front of his 5-year-old daughter was related to the bitter custody battle with his wife over the child.

The brazen attack occurred as Dr. Daniel Malakov, a 34-year-old orthodontist, arrived at the playground with the girl Sunday morning. As the child went to greet her mother, a gunman wearing a black leather jacket and a dark hat approached, shot three rounds into Malakov’s chest and fled, police said. Police recovered a bleach bottle covered with tape that they believe was used as a makeshift silencer.

Malakov was pronounced dead at a hospital. His death shocked his close-knit community of Bukharan Jews from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.

“We lost a young, energetic, spiritual and promising member of the community,” said Rabbi Itzhak Yehoshua, head of the Bukharian Rabbinical Council of America. “We will miss him for many years.”

There were no arrests in the shooting in the well-tended Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, where the orthodontist had gone to hand off his daughter, Michelle, to his former wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova, for visitation.

Malakov’s lawyer, Nathan Pinkhasov, said the orthodontist and Borukhova, a specialist in internal medicine who also goes by the name Marina Borukhova, had waged a fierce battle over custody of Michelle. Malakov had won custody days earlier.

“He had a special bond with the child,” said Pinkhasov, speaking by telephone en route to his client’s funeral Monday. “He wanted to keep fighting for her.”

Wife questioned, not charged
Police questioned Borukhova on Sunday night but did not charge her.

“It’s nonsense,” her attorney, Stephen Scaring, said Tuesday of assertions that the crime might have been related to the couple’s dispute.

A police official who spoke on condition of anonymity said only that investigators suspect the shooting may be linked to the custody dispute.

Malakov emigrated to the United States from Tashkent, one of tens of thousands of Bukharan Jews who arrived in the 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He studied at New York University and Columbia University.

“He was able to accomplish the American dream,” said Yehoshua. “There’s a lot of grief in the community.”

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