NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The city began to send mental health professionals into the Bowery on Monday, after four homeless men were beaten to death over the weekend.
“What happened this weekend shakes the conscience of who we are as New Yorkers,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio as he announced the new mental health initiative. “We are sending experts to the neighborhood to provide support during this difficult time, and will continue to assess how to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future."
As part of the effort, psychiatrists, substance abuse counselors, and extra police patrols will be on hand throughout the neighborhood.
This comes in response to the bloody rampage early Saturday near Chatham's Square.
Police say 24-year-old Randy Rodriguez Santos took a pipe and bludgeoned five other homeless men as they slept on the street. Four of the men died; one is in critical condition.
One of the victims was 83-year-old Kwok Chuen, who was remembered as “a polite, humble gentleman.”
“I spoke to him Friday afternoon, I can't believe he was killed that night. Mr. Kwok is from Hong Kong. He was a kind, kind and humble gentleman,” said one woman who often offered food and assistance to the elderly man.
The city's medical examiner identified two of the other victims as 55-year-old Nazario A. Vazquez Villegas and 49-year-old Anthony L. Manson. The identity of the fourth victim who died is still unknown.
New York City Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks says he sometimes hears people speak ill of the homeless and hopes this tragedy will remind the residents of New York that homeless individuals are still human beings.
“I hope after this horrible tragedy, that that ends in this city and that we've seen people who have lost the roof over their heads as human beings, who need a helping hand,” Banks said.
Santos, the alleged killer, was also homeless and had a history of mental illness and drug use.
Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke at the event saying the city has an obligation to help every homeless individual.
“After this, we all know how vulnerable they are – sleeping on the streets with no protection. Everyone should be entitled to a roof over their head, privacy and protection and housing in the great city and country of the United States,” she said.
She notes that when she returns to congress she will be pushing for a federal role in helping the state and city move forward with outreach policies.
The 24-year-old suspect has since been charged with four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and unlawful possession of marijuana at an arraignment Sunday afternoon. He is due back in court on Oct. 11.
A motive is not yet known. Police said the attacks appeared to be random.