Thomas Yarnavick, 66, was being held on murder and weapons charges in the killing that shocked the Beacon Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in the Rockaways, which last year was badly damaged during Superstorm Sandy.
"It's as if you live in a small, tight-knit town, and you wake up to incredibly tragic news. This is like a small town," said center spokesman Aaron Lichtman.
Lichtman said the two men had been roommates since September and there were no warning signs or obvious problems between the two. He said such violence had never happened at the center.
The two men were in their room at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday when the attack happened, and an employee discovered the gruesome scene and called police, police said. The victim had serious head trauma and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. The man's name wasn't released. It wasn't clear if the wheelchair belonged to one of the men.
Yarnavick was taken into custody. Later Wednesday, he was awaiting arraignment in Queens. It wasn't clear yet if he had an attorney.
Lichtman said the nursing home can accommodate up to 120 residents. He wasn't sure how many people were currently living there or how long the victim and Yarnavick had been there. Psychologists and grief counselors were available to the residents, he said.
"There is a lot of work to do to help these residents," he said. "We are all grieving, the employees, too."
The nursing home is located on the boardwalk in the Rockaways, one of the areas worst-hit by Sandy last year. Residents remained in the building during the storm as seawater crashed through its first floor because their request to evacuate was denied.
They lived in the soaked, sand-filled building for several days afterward, with the lights running on emergency generators, until the state gave a mandatory evacuation order as a snowstorm approached. Ninety-nine patients were evacuated under trying conditions. Most were back less than a week later.