Authorities say Adones Betances killed 18-year-old Winston Ortiz during a dispute on the fifth floor of a building on Woodycrest Avenue in the Highbridge section of the Bronx around 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The victim had believed in the past days that his younger girlfriend was breaking up with him, his family said. Those fears appeared allayed when she called him and told him she wanted to meet, and detectives are now looking into whether she was instead luring him to his death.
Ortiz reportedly identified his killer to responding police, who said his final words to the officers before he was taken away on a stretcher was his mother's phone number.
Sources tell Eyewitness News that the age difference between the young couple was unsettling to some and was the apparent motive for the attack.
Related: Family of Bronx teen stabbed, set on fire speaks out about the tragedy
Ortiz's mother was inconsolable after seeing the suspect face to face for the first time in court Friday.
"When he was dying, he was praying, he was screaming," aunt Nancy Tavarez said. "He was probably praying, 'God forgive him for what he's doing to me.'"
Court officers were careful to keep the two families apart, with the suspect's mother furious over what she claimed was the couple's inappropriate relationship.
But family and friends described Ortiz as a model student and a devoutly religious young man, often seen going to and from church with a Bible in his hand.
"That's the question, why?" Tavarez said. "We don't understand why this happened, because he never have any argument with anyone. With anybody."
Police say Betances stabbed Ortiz twice in the back and once in the chest, doused him with an accelerent, lit a match, and set him on fire.
Ortiz sustained burns over 90% of his body. He was transported to Harlem Hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries.
"He cared so much about the people that he loved, he was just the best person," his brother, Wilson Ortiz, said. "I still cant believe that, what goes through your mind that you go through the lengths and brutally murder someone like that?"
As he was being led out of the police precinct in handcuffs, Betances told reporters he was framed.
Now, the devastated family is pleading for justice.
"Our family is in so much pain after this tragic loss," the victim's aunt, Victoria Ortiz, wrote on Facebook. "He was ALWAYS in church, his house, or with family. He was such a quiet and sweet kid. Always willing to help and do whatever was asked of him. For something like this to happen is just unimaginable!"
She created a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $35,000 as of late Friday afternoon.
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