A 22-year-old man who was described by close friends as badly in need of mental health treatment was arrested early Sunday in connection with the stabbing death of a woman in the Sheridan-Parkside housing development in the Town of Tonawanda.
Town police said Edmund M. Serwinowski, a town resident, was arrested after a 34-year-old woman was stabbed to death in her apartment on Blackmore Street at about 4:30 a.m.
Serwinowski is charged with second-degree murder, said police, who still had not released the victim’s name as of 6 p.m. Sunday. The victim lived in a disheveled, white row house in a neighborhood of poor and working-poor families. A festive Christmas wreath hangs on the door of the homicide scene.
While police released few details about the crime, neighbors said the victim was a girlfriend of Serwinowski’s, and they said she had a young son, believed to be about 10 years old, from another relationship.
According to four neighbors who were close friends of Serwinowski’s, the alleged killer has had trouble for years with drugs and criminal activity, but all four said they have never known him to be violent.
Serwinowski has bounced from home to home in recent years, neighbors said, and has spent much of the past 18 months living in Sheridan-Parkside with a family friend, Hazel Masten, 43.
In recent weeks, Serwinowski has been depressed and at times has made suicidal remarks, stating that he was going to kill himself and “take other people with him,” a shaken Masten told The Buffalo News.
“One of his girlfriends is a young woman in Kenmore who is going to have his baby any day now,” Masten said. “She told me [Sunday] that she and the Tonawanda police have tried to get him admitted into mental hospitals for the past two weeks. She told me no hospital would admit him.”
Standing outside her apartment near the crime scene, Masten told a reporter that she talked with Serwinowski last week about his efforts to get admitted into a mental health facility.
“He’s been really messed up lately because of all the drugs he has been taking,” Masten said. “The other day, he walked into my home, and I said, ‘Why aren’t you in the hospital?’ He said, ‘We went to the hospital, and they told me I was too calm for them to admit me, so they sent me home.’ ”
Masten said that, in her view, Sunday morning’s tragedy would not have happened if Serwinowski had been admitted to a mental hospital.
Neighbor Matthew McMullen, 22, who grew up with Serwinowski and once got arrested with him for use of a stolen credit card, said Serwinowski needed help and apparently didn’t get it.
“I’ve known him since we were 9 years old,” said McMullen. “Eddie has been dealing with a lot of problems lately. … He was going through a depression. I have heard he was talking about suicide.”
McMullen said he attended Hoover Middle School and Kenmore West High School with Serwinowski. He said he never knew his friend to be violent and didn’t know what made him “snap.”
“Why does a teacher’s son go into an elementary school [in Connecticut] and kill a bunch of little kids? Why does a guy suddenly think he’s the Joker and go into a movie theater and start shooting people?” McMullen said. “I don’t know what makes people snap.”
Similar descriptions of Serwinowski came from two other neighbors and close friends – Kelly Rosenberger, 44, and Jessie Guize, 16 – as they stood outside in nearly 60-degree weather and talked about the tragedy.
“My husband said our dogs started going crazy about 3:30 in the morning, but I didn’t hear anything,” said Rosenberger, who lives two doors from the homicide scene. “I got up about 5:30, and there were police cars and yellow police tape everywhere.”
“I guarantee you that half of the people in these projects either knew Eddie, had him in their house, or had him watch their kids over the years,” said Guize, who wiped away tears as she spoke.
Police arrested Serwinowski near the cime scene shortly after they were called to the residence, Lt. Paul Yakono said. He said he did not know whether Serwinowski had mental health problems, adding that police will probably release more details today.
“It looks like they had an argument, and he killed her,” said James F. Bargnesi, chief of the Homicide Bureau of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Bargnesi spoke briefly with a reporter after conferring with detectives at the Tonawanda police station.
The knife allegedly used in the homicide was recovered near the slaying scene, authorities said, but the specific location was not disclosed.
Police declined to discuss what led to the slaying and released no information about the victim.
None of the neighbors who spoke to The News knew the victim’s name. They said she had lived in the neighborhood for several months. Neighbors said the woman had a son, about 10 years old, who was apparently in the apartment when his mother was killed.
“People are saying she was carried out on a stretcher, and they saw police officers carrying the boy out of the apartment with a blanket over his face, so he couldn’t see his mother’s body,” Masten said.
The young woman who is pregnant with Serwinowski’s baby declined by telephone to talk to The News.
Blackmore Street is close to the intersection of Ensminger Road and Sheridan Parkside Drive, not far from the Parkside Community Center, Sheridan Park golf course, St. Timothy Catholic Church and the Tonawanda Senior Citizens Center. A police substation is located inside the Parkside Community Center.
The neighborhood has had some serious problems with drugs and other issues, said several neighbors close to Serwinowski and his family.
McMullen noted that his cousin, Michael Santiago, 25, was killed in August 2009 on Burns Court, a few blocks from the scene of Sunday’s homicide. Police said Jose LaTorre, 19, shot Santiago during an argument and was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010.
“There are a lot of drugs in this neighborhood, but you don’t see a lot of violent crime, The police cruise through here constantly,” Masten said. “There are a few bad apples here, but a lot of good, hard-working people. I’d call them the working poor.”
Neighbors said that, as far as they knew, Serwinowski was unemployed.