By Carla Zanoni and Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN — Betty Williams, the Bronx woman whose body was stuffed into a suitcase left on an East Harlem street, left New York at age 6 to escape family members who struggled with addiction.
Years later, after she had returned to New York, Williams' own child would be put into foster care because of her drug problems. Now, family members who raised and cared for Williams before her life took a tragic turn toward crime, crack and ultimately murder want to reconnect with the boy, now 3.
"We just want him to know he has family here," Williams' aunt, Carmen Perez, 49, said in Spanish, adding that the family is carefully going about reuniting with the child. "We don't want to hurt him more than he already has been hurt."
The boy has been living with the same foster parent since he was 1 month old, and the woman who is currently raising him has been trying to adopt him for years.
"Perhaps when the baby gets older he will choose to be with us," Perez said, "but for now we know this [the foster family] is the only family he has known."
Williams was raised by Perez (her father’s sister) and her grandmother in Upper Manhattan, the Bronx and in the Dominican Republic.
"I taught her how to eat, she learned how to speak English here," Perez said. "She had a normal, lovely life. She may have strayed later, but she was raised with much love from her family."
Williams, one of five children, was sent to live with her grandmother back in the Dominican Republic for several years to escape family turmoil in New York. She returned to Upper Manhattan as a teen, and then married a Dominican man at age 20. Perez claims it was Williams' husband who first turned her on to drugs.
Williams' husband was deported not long after their wedding, and shortly after that Williams gave birth to her son, who Perez said she gave up to the foster care system.
After her son's birth, Williams quickly became detached from her family and took to living on the street for months at a time and only calling home once or twice a year, her aunt said.
"She started smoking crack at that time," Perez said. "She started going out with strange people — they didn't help her."
One of those people was Hassan Malik, the 55-year-old man charged with Williams' murder, according to her sister, Yajaira Springe, 30, of Brooklyn.
Springe believed her sister and Malik began hanging out after Williams was released from a stint on Rikers Island. Police sources said Williams had been in and out of jail for drug and trespassing charges.
Springe said Malik gave Williams his debit card to withdraw cash for drugs, but he grew angry when she took approximately $2,000 out of his account, more than he had permitted her to withdraw.
Malik tried tracking down Williams, Springe said, but she ignored his phone calls. When she decided to meet him, Williams left the card with her mother, Springe said. When Williams' mother heard her daughter was murdered, she turned Malik's card over to police, Springe said.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the ongoing criminal case. Malik's lawyer, Earl Ward, also declined to comment.
Springe described Malik as "a horrible man" who beat her sister very badly, which was evident from the condition of Williams' body at her open casket funeral this month at Rivera Funeral Home on St. Nicholas Avenue near 175th Street.
"He needs to be punished very severely for everything he did to my sister," Springe said Wednesday in a lower Manhattan court house.
Springe said the her entire family plans to attend Malik's next court appearance, including Williams' paternal grandmother, who is expected to arrive from the Dominican Republic on Friday.
"I'm just so happy my sister was found and that she got a proper burial," Springe said. "She was loved. I don't want this to be like she was some straggler on the street who got murdered."