Murder of Christina Yuna Lee Heightens Safety Fears in Chinatown

A 25-year-old man was arrested on murder and burglary charges on Monday, a day after the police said he stabbed and killed a 35-year-old woman whom he had followed into her building in Lower Manhattan.

The suspect, Assamad Nash, whose last known address was a men’s homeless shelter in the Bowery, was taken into custody on Sunday inside an apartment on Chrystie Street in Chinatown, where the victim, Christina Yuna Lee, was found dead in the bathtub. He was scheduled to be formally charged in criminal court on Monday evening.

Ms. Lee, who graduated from Rutgers University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in art history, worked as a creative producer for Splice, an online music platform based in New York City.

“Our hearts are broken,’’ the company said in a statement. “Always dedicated to making beautiful and inclusive artwork, Christina is irreplaceable.”

Her family declined to comment on Monday.

Ms. Lee’s killing stoked fears in the city’s Asian community, which was already on edge after a rise in attacks during the pandemic. Though the authorities have not determined that Ms. Lee was targeted because of her ethnicity, her death comes less than a month after a homeless man shoved an Asian American woman, Michelle Go, to her death in front of a subway train in Times Square in a seemingly random attack.

There was no indication that Ms. Go had been targeted because of her ethnicity: Minutes before approaching her, the attacker had confronted another female rider, who was not Asian, the authorities said.

Martial Simon, a mentally ill homeless man, was charged with murder after confessing to shoving Ms. Go, the police said.

Mr. Nash proclaimed his innocence as detectives led him in handcuffs out of the Fifth Precinct station house on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown on Monday afternoon. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Ms. Lee’s killing fit a pattern of that has become an unsettlingly regular feature of pandemic New York City: a seemingly unprovoked attack in which the person charged is a homeless man. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, residents have expressed growing concern about homeless people, many of whom seem to be struggling with mental illness, menacing and harassing passers-by.

In the aftermath of the killing, prosecutors and judges are facing scrutiny over how they handled Mr. Nash’s previous criminal cases.

Mr. Nash, whose family declined to comment, had a string of arrests dating to 2015 in New York and New Jersey on charges including assault, burglary and drug possession.

In January, he was charged with criminal mischief and unlawful escape; the police said he was disabling MetroCard machines at several subway stations and tried to escape from a police van after his arrest.

The judge handling the case could have set bail on the escape charge, but prosecutors did not request it and Mr. Nash was released under supervision, according to court records. It is not clear whether the request for bail would have been granted if the prosecutors had asked for it.

Mayor Eric Adams, who was in Albany on Monday meeting with legislators, was asked during a news conference whether Mr. Nash was a “poster child” for the need to amend the state’s bail laws.

Mr. Adams rejected that suggestion. But the mayor, who has pushed for lawmakers to allow judges to set bail for people who they believe are dangerous, said the case deserved scrutiny because Mr. Nash should not have been on the streets.

“We need to really examine what happened here, where did we fail,” he said, before calling again to “close the loopholes that allow dangerous people to be on the streets.”

A makeshift memorial outside Ms. Lee’s apartment building on Monday. Her murder has left many residents feeling fearful for their safety. Credit…Dieu-Nalio Chéry for The New York Times

At a vigil Monday morning, community organizers, workers and residents of Chinatown gathered across the street from Ms. Lee’s apartment and demanded that the city implement better services for the mentally ill and homeless.

Organizers at the vigil handed out fliers with a map and the words “no more shelters” written across them.

“Should we be fearful every time we take a subway or every time we get on the street?” Mary Wang, one of the organizers of the vigil, said.

Later on Monday, roses and other memorabilia accumulated outside Ms. Lee’s apartment, where passers-by stopped to pay their respects.

Kristal Zhang, 31, and her partner, John Liu, 30, drove from Whitestone, Queens to leave a single white rose at the makeshift memorial. Ms. Zhang, an accountant who grew up in Chinatown, said that young Asian professionals have come to feel vulnerable no matter what precautions they take.

“We work late, we take a cab home, and it still happens,” she said, alluding to the way Ms. Lee’s killer entered her building.

Jacky Wong, 45, a founder of Concerned Citizens of East Broadway, which organized the vigil, said he believed residents are at greater risk.

“The list is getting longer and longer,” Mr. Wong said. “We can’t see an end.”

Mr. Wong said that at a vigil last month for Asians who had killed or injured in recent attacks, he had carried an “empty flame” symbolizing that the next victim could be anyone.

“Unfortunately, it was Christina this time,” he said.

Research was contributed by Susan C. Beachy. Reporting was contributed by Precious Fondren, Chelsia Rose Marcius and Jeffrey E. Singer.

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