Deloris Gillespie, a 73-year-old mother of four from Brooklyn, was murdered when she was sprayed with a flammable liquid and set on fire in an elevator.
The grandmother cowered in the corner and tried to shield herself, while neighbors heard her screams of agony as she burned to death.
Jerome Isaac is now charged with murder and arson. His face was badly burned and peeling at his first court appearance.
Police believe he was seen on surviellance video wearing a mask on top of his head, spraying the victim from head to toe before closing the door and leaving her no way to escape.
Police say Isaac is a disgruntled handyman who was angry because he believed she owned him $2,000 for work.
"It wasn't about money," the victim's cousin, Tracy Gillespie, said. "Let me clear. Even if it was, nobody deserves what happened to her. My God."
A memorial service is scheduled for Friday at the First A.M.E. Zion Church in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
The family says it doesn't have enough money to pay for the service or other costs related to the death.
Daughter Sheila Gillespie Hillsman said she helped the Manhattan medical examiner's office identify her mother's remains so a positive identification could be made and a death certificate issued.
Hillsman traveled from her home in Gary, Ind., after getting the news and said the New York community responded with open arms to the family's grief.
"It's just been really hard, but I've really received a lot of love from New York, and I really appreciate it," she said. "I got a lot of hugs on the street."
James said a Manhattan hedge fund manager who did not know Gillespie had come forward offering to donate $10,000 to pay for the memorial service and other expenses. But there was no such deposit in the fund set up to help the family; only $800 is now available, donated by friends and neighbors.
James said she spoke again with the money manager Thursday, was assured he would cover the costs and considered the issue resolved.
Son Everett Hayes, of Stuart, Fla., said he was "tapped out."
"We're at the bottom now," he said.
His mother, at the time of her death, was still working as a clerk at a post office in Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood.
A native of Bastrop, La., she had moved to New York as a young woman, settling in Brooklyn, where she attended a Baptist church while reaching out to anyone who was struggling in a neighborhood that has rapidly been gentrifying, relatives said.
"Deloris was always aware that she was her brother's keeper," said her cousin, Tracey Gillespie, also from Gary, Ind.
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