NEW YORK (AP) — It was bad enough that Ana Charle was killed after leaving her job for the day as director at a homeless shelter for men. But how it happened shocked even seasoned investigators.
They say her killer was an ex-con and former shelter resident who forced her to strip and sexually assaulted her early Monday evening, then gunned her down on the sidewalk as she tried to flee with her clothes still off.
Since then, the slaying in the Bronx — called “as bad a homicide as I’ve seen” by Robert Boyce, the city’s chief of detectives — has fueled a debate over whether shelter workers and neighbors need more protection from a homeless population that includes men with histories of violent crime and mental illness.
State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and other politicians have called for the city Department of Homeless Services to shut down the Bronx Boulevard Men’s Shelter. Dinowitz claimed that city officials ignored earlier pleas for more security at the facility. The city has since added three security guards there.
“They should have listened to us in the first place,” the Bronx Democrat said. “It’s impossible to know if it could have saved her life. But it’s really infuriating.”
Homeless advocates took a different view, calling the case a reminder of the need for more funding for permanent housing that provides mental health and other services for the homeless so that they can lead normal lives.
“Punishing the other residents of (the shelter) by closing it down would be the worst response to this tragedy,” Mary Brosnahan, president of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement.
“Rather than taking the easy way out, we need our elected officials to contribute to real solutions.”
The suspect, West Spruill, had been due in court on Friday, but the appearance was postponed until week.
Charle, 36, who studied psychology in Spain, moved to New York more than 10 years ago with her two daughters to “begin a new life from scratch,” her brother, Daniel Charle, wrote in a tribute published in a Spanish newspaper.
His sister was “always concerned about the weakest people,” he wrote. “She did not mind getting into hassles to defend their beliefs.”
David Obele, who grew close to Charle while working as a shelter specialist for the Coalition for the Homeless, described her as a “very hands-on” director of a shelter she took over in 2013. He said she knew every resident’s name and case history.
“Sometimes someone like her is their only stability in a very out-of-control world,” he said.
It was unclear if 39-year-old Spruill arrived at the 108-bed shelter with a record of mental problems to go along with a rap sheet that included arrests in New York on robbery, assault and other charges. He also served eight years in a Michigan prison before staying at the shelter for several months.
Security video from Monday night showed Spruill following Charle to her car parked around the corner form the shelter before he accosted her, police said.
Witnesses described seeing Spruill shoot his victim during a foot chase while both were naked. Afterward, they said, the shooter calmly went back to the car, put on his clothes and walked away with some bags.
When officers stopped him near a car wash, they discovered a .40-caliber pistol in one of the bags, police said. Also found were plastic ties and a scrap of paper with the license plate number of her car on it, they said.
In court Wednesday, prosecutor Georgia Barker alleged that the evidence showed the cold-blooded ambush was a “premeditated act.” Spruill responded by blurting out, “I object” and “I want to represent myself, man” before the judge cut him off and ordered him held without bail.
Obele, who last saw Charle about two weeks ago, disputed reports that she was fearful and had requested additional security at the shelter.
“She never mentioned anything like to me,” he said. Still, he added, her death while working with hard cases “reminds us that the danger is there, and these people need help.”