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Ex-Librarian's Life Unraveled Before His Murder in Harlem Shelter

By Sybile Penhirin | January 29, 2016 5:04pm | Updated on January 31, 2016 6:20pm
 Devon Black was murdered in a homeless shelter on January 27, 2016, officials said.
Devon Black was murdered in a homeless shelter on January 27, 2016, officials said.
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EAST HARLEM — The former special education teacher murdered in a homeless shelter led a full life until his career, marriage and finances unraveled over the past two years, according to court records.

Deven Black, 62, a former librarian and teacher, who had his throat slit by his angry shelter roommate on Wednesday, was described by friends and family as "generous," "empathic" and "hard-working."

But a different side of Black emerged recently, a side they said they found hard to reconcile with the man they thought they knew.

In 2014, he was reassigned from his teaching position after making an inappropriate comment to a female student. His 32-year marriage collapsed the same year amid his severe depression. Then, lonely and discredited, he became entangled in a check fraud scheme with a woman he met on the Internet, according to federal court documents.

He was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty in July 2015 to stealing more than $200,000 from three companies, including an assisted living facility, federal prosecutors said.

Six months later — to the day — he died alone in a homeless shelter after his 21-year-old roommate, Anthony White, sliced his throat, according to officials. 

Black's federal conviction offers a window into his life.

Friends, family members and former colleagues submitted letters of support prior to his sentencing describing an intelligent, compassionate man and a jack-of-all-trades.

At 17, he left his home in New York after his mother remarried where he worked as a radio journalist in Massachusetts. He soon had his own call-in talk program, Cape Cod Calling, and was later appointed WCOD News Director, according to official documents. 

A few years later, he came back to New York and worked for The North Star Pub in lower Manhattan's South Street Seaport for 20 years where he eventually became the boss. Co-workers remembered him as an "enlightened manager."

An East Village pastor Larry David McCormick, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said he spent many Boxing days with Black, gathering food and clothing donations at the pub, which the clergyman would then distribute to his needy parishioners. 

When the restaurant shut down in 2001, Black decided to go back to school to become a special ed teacher and three years later, he started teaching elementary students then middle school students in the Bronx.

He taught Social Studies at The Castle Hill Middle School in The Bronx, and went on to earn a Masters degree in Library Sciences, records show. 

He starting working as the school librarian, and was recognized in 2013 for his work with an award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. 

It was at this time, Black's marriage of 32 years was falling apart and Black was becoming more and more depressed, according to his lawyer Jennifer L. Brown.

In December 2013, a fall on his cellar stairs left Black bedridden for several weeks, during which Black's depression increased. 

During his convalescence, he started talking online to people who lived overseas, believing they were his friends, his lawyer said. 

He was back to work in The Bronx in 2014, but his return was short-lived. A female student claimed he told her that she looked "sexy" and touched her inappropriately, according to the Daily News.

Black was suspended for 28 days without pay, removed from the library and moved to the absent teacher reserve where he worked as a substitute teacher, according to court documents.

Him and his wife, Jill Rovitzky Black divorced the same year after couples therapy failed. 

Black took refuge in the on-line world and starting sending large sums of his family's money overseas to strangers who were asking for his help, according to court documents.

His ex-wife said Black slowly lost common sense and that the friends "he made online became more real and more important to him than his actual family and friends."

That's when a woman he met online offered to have sex with him in exchange for helping her with her with the bank fraud scheme. It's unclear how much he knew about the scam, but he ended up withdrawing a total of $146,000 in ill-gotten gains.

"I am so deeply ashamed of what I have done," Black wrote in a letter to the judge in his case in October.

"Not only have I committed bank fraud, I have thrown away 60 years of law abiding productive life (...) In many ways, I was a model citizen. I have tossed all of that away in a perfect storm of extreme loneliness, depression and greed," he wrote, adding he was ready to do whatever it took to pay back for his mistakes.  

By then, Black was staying at a city shelter and taking medication to help him with his depression and suicidal thoughts, he wrote.

It was during an altercation over a stolen cellphone that the roommate cut Black's throat.

He bled to death on Wednesday night, police said. White, the roommate, is still at large.

On his Facebook profile, Black's son, Jonas Son, blamed mental illness and a "broken system" for his dad's death. 

"Although [my dad] had struggled with mental illness for many years, he was unable to get the treatment he needed, and he fell through the cracks of a severely broken system," he wrote. 

"It is hard not to hate the man who took my father away from me, but ultimately I see my father’s killer as another victim. Had there been adequate mental health infrastructure in place, this tragedy would not have happened."