KEY POINTS

  • A homeless man was sleeping inside a stairwell of a Manhattan building when his attacker set him on fire
  • The unidentified victim died of his injuries at a hospital Thursday, nearly two weeks after the attack
  • A 27-year-old resident of the building was arrested and charged with attempted murder, assault and arson

A homeless man has died after he was set on fire as he was sleeping inside a stairwell in a New York City building, police said.

A video obtained by the New York Post of the horrifying attack showed a man wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and beige cap taking a handheld lighter to the left leg of the sleeping victim, whom officials have yet to identify, on Nov. 5 at Samuel Gompers Houses on Pitt Street in Manhattan.

The attacker then fled the scene, and a second man walked over and by the victim as the flames built and fumes engulfed the stairway, the footage showed. The body of the homeless man was entirely inflamed within moments.

On the day of the attack, 27-year-old Nathaniel Terry, who lives in the building, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, assault and arson, the New York City Police Department said. The homeless man's death was ruled a homicide, police said.

The unidentified victim died of his injuries at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center burn unit Thursday, 13 days after the attack, the New York Daily News reported.

The victim is believed to be in his 30s and regularly slept in hallways and stairwells of the Samuel Gompers Houses building, cops said. By the time building residents managed to put the fire out, the victim had suffered burns on 75% of his body, according to police.

“He was on fire, like he was burning up. [I] smelled it. He wasn’t even crying or anything like that. He wasn’t even making noise. He was just on fire,” Christopher Watson, 37, a resident in the building, told the Daily News after witnessing the incident.

Police initially responded to a 911 call where it was reported that the victim had a crack pipe on his lap and that the pipe had ignited his clothes, police sources told New York Post. The caller also claimed they poured water on the man as he burned.

Investigators found a crack pipe on the victim and initially thought that he had accidentally set himself on fire, but that changed when they recovered surveillance video from the stairwell, officials said. 

Upon his arrest, Terry said he was trying to “scare” the victim off, a police source told the Daily News.

A building resident named John, 36, said he found it hard to believe Terry would commit the crime.

“I can’t imagine him doing that,” John was quoted by New York Post as saying. “Not with that guy. I’ve seen a lot of people coming and going from the apartment. Mom is disabled. They’re really on top of that. He has a girlfriend. They have dogs. He plays with my dogs at the dog park. I would never suspect he would do this. I don’t think he’s that kind of person.”

The neighbor also said that the building could be rough at times, with homeless people sleeping in hallways and drug use out in the open.

Terry returns to court on Dec. 9, and upgraded charges are expected to be filed against him.

Anyone with information on the victim's identity is urged to call NYPD Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.

crime scene Representative image Photo: Wikimedia Commons