Homeless woman found dead in NYCHA boiler room, blocks from her twin sisters’ apartment

New York Daily News 1 month ago

A homeless woman who struggled with mental illness was found dead in a boiler room at the Riis Houses in the East Village — three blocks from her twin sisters’ apartment, where she was no longer welcome, family and neighbors said.

The sprawling NYCHA complex was abuzz with talk about the death of Daisy Hernandez, 39, whose body was so badly decomposed when police removed it Thursday morning that she could not be fingerprinted.

Heat and hot water was shut off in the building where Hernandez was found so authorities could attend to the gruesome scene. An online listing of water outages in NYCHA properties said water was disabled in a Riis building for 16 hours on Thursday.

Hernandez’s death — which the NYPD said was not suspicious — produced an awful stench that lasted for five days, and got worse when the heat came on, said resident Crystal Chu, 33.

“It kinda started smelling like a rat. Then it turned into something like sewage. It was just bad," she said.

She had called NYCHA to complain.

“I was like, ‘Listen, there’s an awful smell going on coming from downstairs, and I don’t know what it is. It smells like something is dying — is dead — down there,'” she said.

Maria Hernandez, 37, said her sister’s body was "unrecognizable" and that authorities had not let her view it.

“The medical examiner who came to pick up the body said the heat in the room just added to the decomposition," Hernandez said. "I don’t know how long she was there. But it’s — it’s bad.”

Daisy’s demise was the culmination of a series of tragedies going back 15 years.

“It hurts, but I won’t have to worry about her anymore. I won’t have to worry about her sleeping in the streets, or getting hurt. But it’s just a gruesome way to go," Maria told the Daily News.

“It’s hard but I saw it coming. I knew it would happen."

Residents said there was an awful smell in the East Village building for several days.
Residents said there was an awful smell in the East Village building for several days. (Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News)

Daisy’s mental deterioration began in 2007. When the sisters’ mom passed away at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, Daisy was a few flights upstairs in the psych ward undergoing treatment for schizophrenia.

“She didn’t get to say goodbye to my mom," Maria said.

Daisy was never the same. The Ave. D apartment — shared by Daisy, Maria, Maria’s twin sister, Maria’s two children and their father — became increasingly tense and dangerous.

Maria’s son, who is now 19, saw Daisy cutting herself. He told classmates in 2015 about his unwell aunt, and soon teachers warned Maria that her kids were at risk.

It was possible the city Administration for Children’s Services would remove the kids from the home, Maria said. So she decided to kick her mentally-ill sister out of the apartment.

“It was my decision. I had to do it to protect my kids. They were exposed to way too much. They were exposed to things they should have never been exposed to,” Maria said.

“Nobody knows what I went through but me. She lived with me. No one else. And I went through a lot people don’t know about.”

Daisy was only allowed to visit to pick up mail, shower and eat. She could only move back in if she got help — but she never stuck to a treatment plan, Maria said.

“She would just walk, depressed. She had alcohol abuse. She would just walk around, sit outside, just alone. She didn’t want to speak to anybody,” Maria said.

“She had her days. Sometimes she would speak to me, sometimes she wouldn’t...She would never admit to needing help. She said there was nothing wrong with her. That was part of her condition."

Some Riis Houses residents were angry that Daisy got into the the boiler room, which should have been off-limits.

A NYCHA spokeswoman referred inquiries to the NYPD.

Maria said she would cremate Daisy once the Medical Examiner confirmed the NYPD’s identification of the body.

“I will never see her face again. I will not even be able to say goodbye because I wasn’t even allowed to look at the body," Maria said.


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