By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — A gorgeous former model brutally stabbed to death at a housing complex on the Lower East Side over the weekend was remembered by family as a spiritual and loving person who dreamed of one day running her own business.
Jomali Morales, 42, planned to celebrate her birthday last Sunday, a day after before police discovered her body stabbed 20 times inside an elevator in the Baruch Houses, her mother said.
"She was always my little princess," said Petra Montañez, who shared a co-op apartment with Jomali on Grand Street. "She was so loving and so full of life."
Morales was a product of local schools who was still very close with her old classmates, her mother said. She was also a talented dancer and singer growing up, and at one point signed on to work for a modeling agency, Montañez added.
"Whenever she walked in a room, the whole place lit up," she said.
Years later after a stint living upstate, Morales moved back to the city and took a job as a masseuse at a Manhattan spa.
"She had a dream of one day opening her own place," Montañez said, adding that her daughter was trying to earn her state license in massage therapy.
Morales planned to go out with friends after working at the spa last Friday, but didn't indicate where she was headed, her mother said.
What happened after that is a mystery.
"We don't know what she was doing down there," said Morales' brother, Joe Vitale, who works for the NYPD, adding that Morales didn't have any acquaintances in the Baruch Houses that the family knew about.
Her purse was discovered sitting on the grass outside the housing complex, Vitale noted, but it is unclear whether any valuables like cash were taken.
"Why she went there, I don't know," her mother said. "She must have known someone there."
An employee with the NYC Housing Authority, who was working at the Baruch Houses on Tuesday, said the victim should have never been there at that hour.
"It's not a safe area to be at 5 a.m.," said David Rivera, a 17-year NYCHA staffer.
Now, her family hopes that police will nab the killer before anyone else is harmed
"Sooner or later they're going to catch the guy," Montañez said of the attacker, "He can run but he can't hide."
The NYPD is offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the killing. Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.