Jeffrey Babbitt was walking through Union Square last Wednesday, near the Manhattan comic book store that he'd been going to for years, when he had a fatal chance encounter with a stranger.
The stranger was a man named Lashawn Marten, who had a history of trouble with the law and had been living in a facility for homeless people with mental illnesses. Witnesses said that Marten, who is black, was agitated, and that he declared that he was going "to punch the next white person he saw."
That person was Babbitt. Marten struck the 62-year-old, and Babbitt hit his head on the ground hard. Marten also fought passersby who rushed to Babbitt's aid.
"[Marten] hit two more people and asked for the police to come," a witness told the local New York City CBS affiliate.
An onlooker with the Twitter name Joey Boots tweeted a pic of Babbitt as paramedics treated him at the scene.
Babbitt was able to stand, but fell into a coma after he was taken to the hospital and was later declared brain dead. Marten is being held on $1 million bond. Ray Kelly, New York City's police commissioner, said officials were investigating whether to add hate crime charges to the assault charges that Marten already faces.
The Babbitt story is full of sad details. According to The New York Times, the retired subway train conductor was the sole caretaker for his 94-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. (Babbitt's lone sister died of cancer years ago.) It's not clear who will be responsible for his mother's care.
A comic-book illustrator named Billy Tucci left this status update about Babbitt on his Facebook wall:
"Jeffrey Babbit [sic] was at every New York comic convention and book signing that I attended. He was [a supporter of Tucci's comic book, Shi] from the very beginning and bought every book and print I ever produced and would give me train books and magazines to pass on to my son William. Jeffrey was a gentle soul who NEVER said a bad thing to anyone. I am shocked and saddened beyond belief that I'll never see my friend's smile again as he was brutally beaten to death by some animal who randomly picked out Jeffrey to murder because he was white."