London Was Under Siege and a Black Man From New York Was Under Attack
Ezinne Ukoha

I’ve commented once already, but I believe this story from the New York Times deserves a separate space.

I would prefer that murderers not be pictured or mentioned by name, but the portrait painted here is not sympathetic, so my outrage is slightly mollified.

Further mitigating the attention shown to the killer is what the article tells us we lost when Timothy Caughman’s life was cut short.

Late Monday evening, he found a target on a Midtown street corner. Timothy Caughman was bent over some garbage.

Like many New Yorkers living spare lives in their retirement years, Mr. Caughman was once someone else, his identity not defined by empty pockets and a modest address.

He was born in Jamaica, Queens, and grew up in a comfortable apartment in the South Jamaica Houses. One of his cousins said the family has roots in Georgia dating back to the 1700s when their ancestors were first brought to America as slaves.

He was the son of Tula Caughman, a home health care aide for wealthy residents of nearby Jamaica Estates, and William Caughman, the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Growing up, he was called Hard Rock, for he knew his way around a boxing ring — and a street fight. “He was known in the community as not to be someone who started a fight, but if you started it, he finished it,” said one of his cousins.

According to Seth Peek, another cousin, Mr. Caughman earned an associate degree after attending college in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

For several years in Queens, Mr. Caughman ran a division of the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a federal antipoverty program designed to provide part-time jobs to poor youths. “He probably gave out about two or three thousand jobs to people in the community,” said one of his cousins.

He also freely contributed homespun advice on how to excel: “‘If you know that someone is going to be somewhere, and you want to meet them, you got to be there an hour early,’” the cousin recalled Mr. Caughman instructing him.

Later, he held a succession of jobs, including as a concert promoter. He was particularly proud of booking an early gig by Earth Wind & Fire, before they attained fame, his cousin said.

For the last 20 years, he lived in a room at the Barbour Hotel on West 36th Street that now houses formerly homeless people transitioning to permanent housing.

Svein Jorgensen, the chief executive of Praxis Housing Initiatives, which manages the Barbour, said that of the 100-odd residents, Mr. Caughman was one of the few who were actually permanent tenants and not part of the transient program. In reports of the murder, Mr. Caughman was incorrectly assumed to be homeless.

“He was an extremely gracious individual and respectful of his neighbors,” Mr. Jorgensen said.

He read avidly, and mainly kept to himself. He was a recycler of redeemables, his currency for his modest wants. His relatives said he viewed this as an entrepreneurial undertaking, a way to keep active and help pay for his room.

He did maintain a social media presence. He had a Twitter account, and in his profile he defined himself as a can and bottle recycler, autograph collector and a good businessman. He said he aspired to visit California.

On his Twitter feed, sandwiched between posts about celebrity culture, are links to articles about preventing cholesterol in babies and others about autism, echoing his broad interests.

Among those aware of his fandom is Shari Headley, an actress who most recently played a district attorney on Tyler Perry’s “The Haves and the Have-nots” television soap opera. She held a live chat on Twitter every Tuesday, and she said Mr. Caughman rarely missed one. One day he requested a photo of her, and she mailed him an autographed photo.

“What kind of world are we living in right now?” she said, overcome with emotion. “What a harmless guy. He spends his days just wanting to take pictures with celebrities.”

When Ms. Headley’s character on “The Haves and the Have-nots” was killed off recently, she said Mr. Caughman was downcast, wishing it weren’t true. When her agent told her Mr. Caughman had been stabbed, she hoped the same thing.

Late Monday evening, as Mr. Caughman rooted through trash on Ninth Avenue, near his home, a white man in a dark coat approached him from behind. He said nothing. The man withdrew a sword from beneath his coat.

A woman heard commotion, but didn’t realize what was actually happening and she ran off. But she told detectives she heard Mr. Caughman say, “Why are you doing this? What are you doing?”

Correction: March 23, 2017

An earlier version of this article gave the wrong name for Timothy Caughman’s father. He was William Caughman, not Russell Henry Caughman.

An earlier version also misstated Mr. Caughman’s education history. Mr. Caughman earned an associate degree after attending college in Brooklyn and Staten Island, according to a cousin; he never attended Brooklyn College.

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