The death of a New York City philanthropist found with multiple stab wounds in his burning Brooklyn brownstone early Monday has been ruled a homicide, NBC New York reported.
Firefighters discovered a deceased L. Antonio Litman amid a raging blaze at the Adelphi Street building, which reportedly housed his nonprofit, Virginia’s House of Hope. Authorities listed the fire as “suspicious,” but Litman’s death wasn’t classified as a homicide until Tuesday.
The 55-year-old do-gooder was apparently dead before the fire broke out, a police source told the New York Post. Crews responded to the home just after 3:30 a.m. to find Litman on the first floor with a body of fire around him.
An official cause of death hasn’t been determined, but authorities say the charity owner had bloody puncture wounds to his neck and body.
Litman, who lived in New Jersey, was a beloved figure in his Fort Greene, Brooklyn, neighborhood and was dubbed the “Santa Claus of the block” because of his love for giving and charity. His Virginia’s House of Hope group boasts that it has provided food, clothes school supplies and toys since the charity’s inception in 2006, according to the charity’s website.
One year, Litman even gifted every child on his block with a hoverboard for Christmas.
“He funded my whole Christmas, ” a woman who identified herself as Litman’s cousin told the New York Daily News on Monday. “I have six children and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to provide a Christmas for them. He bought them bikes, he bought them toys. Everything they wanted.”
Litman was South Carolina native and grew up on a farm before moving to the Big Apple and taking an interest in charity work with his boss’s mother, Virginia Maitland Sachs. The nonprofit is named after her.
“Charitable work can be very difficult, and I realized that my efforts could have more impact if I reached out to others for help,” Litman wrote on the group’s website. “In order to do so, I took the proverbial leap of faith and founded a nonprofit charitable organization called ‘Virginia’s House of Hope.’”
The mysterious blaze has many in the community in mourning and on edge.
“I will never forget the laughter, jokes and your smile,” another cousin, Lee Pringle, wrote on Facebook.
Litman’s longtime friend and employer Clay Maitland remembered Litman as a “happy” and “charming” guy.
“He could charm the paint off the wall,” Maitland said, later lamenting his friend’s death as a “devastating blow.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him,” he added. “He was like a warm stove, just great to be around. How many people can you say that about?”
Before discovering Litman, firefighters responded to another suspicious fire at a nearby Queens Village home where authorities found a dead body.
It’s unclear if the two blazes are connected and, so far, no arrests have been made in either case.