Jakim Gillis, 12, was playing basketball with three other friends Saturday afternoon across from 1980 Park Avenue, a public housing complex located in East Harlem, when he heard a male voice screaming for help. Gillis said he looked up and saw a fire coming from the building’s 10th floor window.
“I told my friend to call the police,” Gillis said.
Both the police and the fire department arrived at the Lincoln House public housing project, located at East 135th Street and Park Avenue around 4:25 p.m. and found two victims left for dead in a burning building: Ruth Montano, 55, a Dominican woman living in apartment 10D, who was found stabbed in her torso, and a 32-year-old man, believed to be her son, who was also found stabbed in his torso and head.
According to police reports, David Elias, 31, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, murder and arson on Saturday night, as he tried to board a No. 6 train at 125th Street.
Both victims were transported to Harlem Hospital, where Montano was pronounced dead. The identity of the second victim, who neighbors believe is Montano’s other 32-year-old son, has not been released, but he is listed in stable condition. Harlem Hospital and police at the 26th Precinct refused to comment on any of the patient’s injuries or status of the case.
According to neighbors in the building, an FDNY ambulance arrived shortly after fire officials extinguished the flames, wheeling in two stretchers into the entryway. They emerged at 7:05 p.m., said witnesses, with two bodies, bloodied and burnt.
On Sunday, a day after the incident, neighbors were shocked and recalled what they knew about Montano and her critically injured son, many who said lived with her.
“They were together all the time,” Tiffany Person, 31, a resident in the building said, adding that she had heard the son apparently abused drugs.
Another neighbor, who lived on the 12th floor but did not want to give her name, said she believed the alleged killer, Elias, was mentally handicapped.
“It is a travesty,” she said. “[Montano] kept to herself, I would see her all the time with her [younger] son.”
Another 40-year-resident of the building, who also did not want to give his last name, said the two brothers were known to have had physical disputes in the past.
“There was fighting between the two brothers,” he said, adding that the older brother was very quiet. The neighbor said he saw the man earlier Saturday morning, between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
“I saw him coming home for the grocery store,” he said. “He said good morning.”
The neighbor also said he remembered Montano as a kind and thoughtful woman, who brought him flowers and a candle after his mother died last December from a heart attack.
“She was a very nice lady,” he said.
Many neighbors had trouble digesting what had happened, and as can happen in incidents like this, had the facts of the incident slightly off.
“I don’t even know what to think anymore,” said Phil Reed, 54, who lived in the building for 37 years and whose mother still lives on the third floor. “First they told us it was the fire that took her [Montano] away. Now they say they’ve got her son in jail, for double homicide!”