Prior to his death last weekend, Anthony Manson was a self-described writer and counselor who was often seen typing on his laptop at Columbus Park in Chinatown.
He kept a blog, written in a stream-of-consciousness-style on topics from God to psychology to homelessness. He would work in the park and then upload his entries at the Chatham Square Library, using its free WiFi connection.
“I wouldn’t call him a homeless guy,” said Karlin Chan, a Chinatown resident who would often stop and chat with Manson while walking his dogs in the morning. “I would call him a wanderer.”
Manson was one of the four men bludgeoned to death early Saturday morning. Randy Santos, a 24-year-old homeless man with a reported history of violence and mental illness, has been accused of the killings. The surviving victim of the attacks, David Hernandez, 49, remains in the hospital in critical condition.
Members of the community have organized a wake and funeral for one of the victims, Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old who often sat in front of 2 Bowery and was respectfully referred to by Chinatown residents as Uncle Kwok. Ng Fook Funeral home on Mulberry Street has offered to cover the costs of the funeral, which will be held on Thursday. One individual purchased a $200 suit for Kwok to wear.
Another victim, Nazario A. Vazquez Villegas, 54, was a father who had a home but was described by his daughter as having fallen on hard times.
Police have not yet identified the fourth man killed.
Like Kwok, Manson was also a fixture in Chinatown. But according to Chan, he was more itinerant, often leaving the city in the winter in search of warmer weather. He recalled Manson saying he had recently come back from Los Angeles.
Chan said Manson kept himself clean and often carried a rolling suitcase while he was looking to pick up some odd carpentry jobs around the city. He was easy to "shoot the shit" with, according to Chan, who would often encounter him in the park when he walked his dogs during mornings.
A New York Times story reported that Manson was a preacher who founded two nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to help the homeless. His family, based in Chicago, told the Times that they had no idea he was living on the street.
Between his blog and accounts on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Manson left a detailed portrait of his life and personality. He made a total of 49 videos, often beginning with the simple greeting of "Hi friends." Calling himself "Anthony, the priestly artist," he reflected on everything from religion to philosophy to the value of local libraries.
He also spoke and wrote extensively about homelessness. On March 23, 2017, he wrote:
“This is not some emotional trick to stir up people hearts so they would give blindly, nor is this a license [sic] for those who are homeless to do what they want because they are homeless. But rather to talk deeply about homelessness that it needs order, and those who are homeless do have rights. And to loudly say that this is not a problem, yet it can be if it’s not continually address, and, this is everyone’s issues that can be dealt with, because homelessness is not going away any time soon it is a way of life for many.”
Marc Greenberg, the executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, said the latest events reminded him of Thomas Ebbers, a homeless man who was stabbed to death on the Lower East Side in 1990. During his funeral, the details of his biography that people shared surprised even Greenberg, who had brought him to work in his organization. Ebbers, it turned out, came from a wealthy family. He had attended Brown University with a perfect math S.A.T. score of 800. He loved photography and once possessed an extensive jazz collection.
“There was so much to this man that no one knew until he died,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg, who has worked with homeless New Yorkers for 35 years, said that he and other advocates have been urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to build more affordable housing for the homeless, a theme that was stressed in the two vigils held for the victims this week. Greenberg said they have been making the case for decades.
"But it's really a matter of priority," he argued. "We don’t feel the need to give them housing if we don’t feel they are like us. We think they deserve their poverty." Contrary to what many people believe, approximately one third of the homeless have jobs, he said.
He added: "The more we can understand and identify with them, the more we realize that they are the same people."