Carmen Iris Santiago's estranged husband had begun showing up recently outside the beauty salon in Queens where she worked. He would usually pace back and forth in front of the store, unnerving employees and customers.
On Wednesday evening he showed up again at the Tu S'tilo Salon SPA in Jackson Heights and asked to speak to Santiago. Nervous about his presence, the salon's owner told him that he was not allowed inside.
In a chaotic sequence that followed, which witnesses said lasted less than five minutes, Santiago's estranged husband forced his way inside, approached her, threw her to the ground, pulled out a long knife and then stabbed her to death in front of horrified colleagues and customers, witnesses and the police said.
He then sprawled himself over her body and sobbed, according to video footage taken moments after the attack that was posted on social media.
Santiago, 35, was taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead later Wednesday.
Police on Thursday arrested William Rivas, 39, and charged him with murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
They did not offer a motive for the murder, but Santiago's colleagues and friends described Rivas as violent.
"We all told her he was a dangerous man," said Lourdes Salazar, the salon owner. "Everyone here knew he was a dangerous man."
The couple had been separated for four years; it wasn't clear if they were legally divorced. Salazar said that Santiago had told colleagues that Rivas had been abusive to her as recently as last week. Colleagues told her to go to the police. But she wouldn't.
Even as murders in New York City have dropped over the past two decades, the number of domestic violence homicides has remained constant. From 2010-18, the number of homicides linked to domestic violence averaged 67 a year, according to a report published this year by the Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.
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Last year, the number ticked up slightly to 55, from 50, with more than half of the incidents committed by intimate partners.
On Thursday morning, relatives and colleagues arrived at the salon to help mop up the bloodied floor and to light candles.
A person who works at a nearby nail salon and was an acquaintance of Santiago recalled rushing to the scene when she heard screams.
"She was on the floor. He was on top of her," she said, asking not to be identified because she was concerned about her safety. All she could do, the woman said, was to hold the door shut to stop him from escaping and to scream for help. She watched helplessly as Santiago succumbed to her wounds.
"I can't go to sleep. What I saw was tough," she said. "What he was doing while she was dying, that was tough."
Three clients and four workers, all women, were present during the attack. They hid inside the salon, because he went after the women after they had tried to stop the attack.
"We couldn't do anything," Salazar said.
Several employees ran outside to call for help. But by then, Salazar said, "He finished killing her."
Just before stabbing Santiago, Rivas had gone into a nearby bakery and ordered food and a drink, according to the server at the bakery, Rosy Paulino. But he abruptly got up and left before the food arrived, and headed for the salon, Paulino said.
A man matching Rivas' name and date of birth of October 2, 1979 — which was confirmed by a law enforcement official — was arrested in May 2013 in Philadelphia on charges including aggravated assault, criminal trespassing, possession of an instrument of crime and making terroristic threats, according to court records.
The man was released on bail in that case but was back in court that August on charges that he had violated an order of protection, court records showed. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months probation.
The following year, the man was found guilty in the earlier case against him and sentenced to 4 to 10 years on the aggravated assault charge and five years probation, court records said.
Information about when, whether and for how long the man served prison time was unavailable. Prosecutors in Philadelphia said that they could not immediately provide further details. The man's lawyer in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On her Facebook page, Santiago had posted chillingly prescient posts, seemingly about her relationship with Rivas.
"The worst error," she posted in late May, "is to believe that you own someone. Nobody owns anyone. No one is owned by anyone. Love takes work everyday. You neglect it, you lose it."
Just hours before her death, she posted: "Life asked Death: 'Why do people love me, but hate you?' Death answered: 'Because you are a pretty lie and I am a painful truth.'"
Maria Cruz, who owns the bakery shop where Rivas stopped before heading to the salon and where Santiago each day ordered a hot chocolate and a Colombian pastry, broke down in tears thinking about the situation.
"I feel sorry for him. I feel so sorry for her," she said.
"They listen to their demons. They don't think about consequences," she said, referring to Rivas. "But they will have to pay."
Written by: Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Michael Gold
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES