Just Another Guy with Opinions

Homeless Man Dies of Burn Wounds

Posted by shadmia on October 16, 2007


You may never have heard of Felix Najera. He was not famous. He didn’t do anything heroic. In fact Felix Najera, 49, was a homeless drunk who used to bum cigarettes from passersby. He came from Puebla, Mexico twelve years ago. He was the super of an apartment building in Brooklyn before he lost his job and wound up living on the streets.

On the night of Oct. 5 2007 Felix was sleeping on the sidewalk on 103rd St between Park and Lexington Aves in East Harlem in front of the Iglesia Cristiana Betania Church when he was set on fire. He suffered second and third burns to at least 40% to 75% of his body including his face, chest, arms and abdomen. That was on Friday; by the following Tuesday (Oct. 9) Felix was dead. Friends and neighbors said they last saw Najera in front of the church, where he had been playing dominoes with friends. The Rev. Ariel Soto, pastor of the church had known Felix Najera for years and had tried repeatedly to get him into a shelter and an alcohol treatment program.

“He always told me he didn’t want to go,” Soto said.
“Poor man, he. . . did not do anyone any harm. He was always respectful.”
“Whoever did this has no love for humanity,” Soto said. “The person who did this is psychologically disturbed. There is absolutely no meaning to this.”

Gladys Diaz 54, the daughter of Najera’s companion, Hanna, 73, said her mother and Najera were “drinking buddies” and that Najera told her that he was a police officer in Mexico and was here illegally. “I want them to catch the animals who did this,” Diaz said. “My mother is suffering right now.”

Calvin Hall 40, who cleans the apartment building across the street from the church, said he would find Najera sleeping in the hallways, on the rooftop and in the building’s courtyard.

“He called me the ‘diablo moreno’ [the black devil] because I’d chase him out,” Hall said. “But I was the only one who cleaned up after him… I would never wish this on him.”

Hall added that by night the street “is very rough. This really is not a nice neighborhood.”

Neighbors in East Harlem held a vigil in his honor. They gathered in a Harlem park on Friday to say good-bye to Felix Najera. They came bearing flowers and candles. Some came, although they did not know the man who made the streets his home.

“We denounce this kind of gratuitous violence that just has no justification. It’s really tragic,” said Manuel Figueroa.

“It’s an attack on another citizen, and it’s uncalled for, for us to be behaving in a manner in which gave this person his last days,” said Joaquin Rosa.

Those who came to honor Najera’s memory used the ceremony to speak out against the violence that took his life and the plight of the homeless.

“There is no respect for homeless individuals, homeless families in this city. Individuals like Felix are vulnerable,” said Rob Robinson of Picture the Homeless.

Felix Najera will be buried in Mexico. The Mexican Consulate will pay for his funeral expenses.


On Sunday, two days before Felix died, the police acting on tips from witnesses outraged at the vicious attack, arrested a 29-year-old Bronx man and charged him with attempted murder and assault in the attack on Felix Najera. In announcing the arrest, police said they believe the man they charged Sunday acted alone. There had been speculation that a group of three teenagers were responsible for the attack on Najera but police sources now say they were not involved.

In police custody is Israel Torres, 29, of East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. He is charged with using a lighter to set Najera on fire as he slept outside of the Eglesia Christiana Betania Church on East 103rd Street. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Oct. 8 and was held without bail. Now that Felix Najera has died, more serious charges are expected. Torres is known to hang around the block where Najera was set on fire, police sources said. The suspect may also have gone through Najera’s pockets but the motive for the attack remains unclear.

Some community leaders want to make sure he pays for the crime:

“What we’ve witnessed with this case is just a of unbelievable inhumanity and a disregard for human life, and the person who has been arrested for this crime needs to be punished to the ultimate extent of the law,” said Manhattan City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.


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