By Jeff Mays, Ben Fractenberg and Tom Liddy
HARLEM — The suspect wanted in the brutal killing of a 73-year-old great-grandmother — who died during a robbery in which her flat screen TV was taken from her home at a city housing project — is the father of the victim's great-granddaughter, police and family said.
Gregory Velez, 35, is wanted for the death of Julia Hernandez Tuesday inside her Wagner Houses apartment at 445 E. 120 St., near Pleasant Avenue, police said.
Hernandez, who neighbors said loved to dance, was found unconscious by her daughter Jeanette Hernandez at 7:40 p.m.
"I found her on the floor with the plastic around her. She was tied up," said Jeanette Hernandez while standing outside of her mother's building Wednesday afternoon.
Emergency responders and police arrived a short time later and pronounced Hernandez dead at the scene.
The victim had a bag around her head and her feet were tied up with a scarf. A flat screen TV was also missing from the apartment, where there were no signs of forced entry.
"Gregory, if you did this, I want you to come clean. I want to know why you did this. When you didn't have food she gave you a few dollars. Why did you do this to my mother?" said Jeanette Hernandez after returning from the morgue.
Jasminda Otero, 30, Julia Hernandez' granddaughter, said Velez is the father of her 10-year-old child. She stood in front of her grandmother's building crying and being comforted by relatives along with Julia Hernandez' other daughter, Elaine.
"Please find him. Just find him. If you are watching, why did you do this?" Otero said.
Jeanette Hernandez said Velez had not been involved in his child's life for the past few years.
Sources said that the suspect, who recently got out of jail, is described as 6-feet tall and 180 pounds with an earring in his left ear.
The victim's daughter feared that he may be capable of striking again.
"If he can do this to my mom, he can do this to someone else," she said. "He didn't care."
Hernandez said she decided to check on her mother after being unable to reach her all day. Just one day before, Velez had visited the victim.
On Tuesday, Jeanette was supposed to meet up with her mom, but the victim was concerned because there was a suspicious person in the building.
"I told her not to open the door," said Jeanette Hernandez. Her mother was concerned that it might be Velez coming back for a visit.
Distraught family members said that Julia Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico and came to New York City as a teenager. She moved to Wagner Houses 49 years ago and was mostly a homemaker, her daughter said.
After a divorce, Jeanette Hernandez said her mother worked for a time as a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History.
George Serrano, Julia Hernandez' nephew, said he had to break the news to his 81-year-old father on Wednesday that his sister had been killed.
"He took it very hard," Serrano said. "That was his baby sister."
He said the Velez has caused his family a lot of pain.
"She was open to him. She took care of him," added Serrano, who wanted to give the suspect a message.
"You know this family and you know you have caused us a lot of pain," he said. "You can stop the pain a little bit by giving yourself up."
Family friend Alberto Rosado said Elaine Hernandez asked him to go check on her mother around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. When he got to the door, he heard the victim's phone ringing but no one answered.
A neighbor had a key to the apartment but Rosado didn't get it because he thought the neighbor was on vacation.
"I'm glad I didn't find her," he said. Jeanette Hernandez found her mother's body shortly afterwards.
Rosado added that he was shocked that someone was able to get into the apartment because the victim was very careful about who she let in.
"I would call and say I'm coming up and she wouldn't open the door until I said my name twice," he said.
The killing left neighbors, who described Julia Hernandez as a beloved resident of the housing complex, stunned.
"She's well known in this community. Even the little kids knew her," said Danny Bishop, a long-time resident. "She wasn't one of those ladies who you could walk past and not say anything to."
Another woman, who gave her name as Angie, knew the victim for 16 years.
"She would have given him that flat screen. She was a beautiful lady," she said.
"She would give you the shirt off her back," Angie added. "Just the other day she brought me a pair of shoes."
And Japhia Martin, 32, said she saw Hernandez heading out to dance every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"You always saw her in her stilettos," she said. "She had moves of a 20-year old."
Anyone with information on Velez's whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). They can submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.crimestoppers.com or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.