NEW YORK - The homeless man lay face down, unmoving, on the sidewalk outside an apartment building, blood from knife wounds pooling underneath his body.
One person passed by in the early morning. Then another, and another. Video footage from a surveillance camera shows at least seven people going by, some turning their heads to look, others stopping to gawk. One even lifted the homeless man's body, exposing what appeared to be blood on the sidewalk underneath him, before walking away.
It wasn't until after the 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant had been lying there for nearly an hour that emergency workers arrived, and by then, it was too late. Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax - who police said was stabbed while intervening to help a woman being attacked - had died.
"I think it's horrific," said Marla Cohan, who teaches at P.S. 82, a school across the street from where Tale-Yax died. "I think people are just afraid to step in; they don't want to get involved; who knows what their reasons are?"
Tale-Yax was walking behind a man and a woman on 144th Street in the Jamaica section of Queens around 6 a.m. April 18 when the couple got into a fight that became physical, according to police, who pieced together what happened from surveillance footage and interviews with area residents.
Tale-Yax was stabbed several times when he intervened to help the woman, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. She and the other man fled in different directions, and Tale-Yax pursued the man before collapsing. Authorities are searching for the man and woman.
A 911 call of a woman screaming came in around 6 a.m., but when officers responded to the address that was given, no one was there, police said. Another call came in around 7 a.m., saying a man was lying on the street, but gave the wrong address. Finally, around 7:20 a.m., someone called 911 to report a man had possibly been stabbed at 144th Street and 88th Road.
Police and firefighters arrived a few minutes later to find Tale-Yax dead. Officials say they're not sure whether the man was still alive when passers-by opted not to help him.
Residents who regularly pass by the same stretch of sidewalk, in a working-class neighborhood of low-rise apartment buildings and fast food restaurants near a busy boulevard, were unnerved by the way Tale-Yax died.
"Is anybody human anymore?" asked Raechelle Groce, visiting her grandmother at a nearby building on Monday. "What's wrong with humanity?"
In the urban environment, it's not unusual to see people on the street, sleeping or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
But even assuming the person they've just passed is drunk, instead of injured, is no reason not to notify authorities, said Seth Herman, another teacher at the school. He remembered calling an ambulance when seeing a man who appeared to be homeless on the street, with a beer bottle near by.
He called 911, he said, because "I felt it wasn't my job to figure out if the person was drunk or actually hurt."
"I just think that's horrible, whether you're homeless or not," she said. "He's a human being; he needs help."