Shameka Brown thought the bloodcurdling screams that startled her early yesterday morning were coming from someone's television.
Frightened, her daughter ran into her bedroom. The mother and daughter followed the sounds to the front window, and they couldn't believe what they saw.
Ms. Brown shielded her daughter's eyes from a scene she still can't understand. She said she witnessed her downstairs neighbor, Daniel V. Harrigan, beating her stepfather, Kodjo Abbey, in front of their Douglas Street home.
“My stepdad was yelling, 'Help me, help me,' in the middle of the street,” Ms. Brown said. “I got on the phone with 911 and kept screaming out the window for him to stop. Kodjo kept stumbling to the ground; it looked like he was trying to get away. He (Mr. Harrigan) stopped for a second, but came back with a machete.”
Police charged Mr. Harrigan, 24, of 23 Douglas St., Apt. 2, with murder after Mr. Abbey, 29, was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m. yesterday. Police said a landlord/tenant dispute may have prompted the fight that led to the city's first homicide of the year. Mr. Abbey moved to the second-floor apartment of Mr. Harrigan's father's three-decker in October, and was planning on moving out, according to his family and friends.
Mr. Abbey's relatives and close friends comforted his wife, Kimberly, yesterday afternoon at the Douglas Street apartment, just off Cambridge Street near a city playground. Still in shock, Mrs. Abbey had to be reminded twice that her husband of five years, the quiet West African man who worked two jobs to support their family, was not coming home from the hospital.
Mr. Abbey's loved ones want to know why the man who encouraged Mr. Abbey to move to the three-decker just months ago could become so angry he would not only attack Mr. Abbey with his fists, but also with a machete. They're grappling to understand why Mr. Abbey, the man they said always lent a helping hand to others, was unable to find help of his own when he lay in the middle of the road, dying.
“We all want to know the motive behind it,” said family friend Richard Boateng. “We're trying to put this all together. What he (Mr. Harrigan) did was brutal. It was animalistic.”
Police went to Douglas Street about 12:30 a.m., where they said they saw Mr. Harrigan standing over Mr. Abbey with what they initially thought was a baseball bat. They said they immediately ordered Mr. Harrigan to put down the weapon, which they then determined was a machete.
Mr. Harrigan dropped the machete and was taken into custody. Mr. Abbey, meanwhile, was unresponsive and suffered from extensive injuries to his head and upper body, police said. He was taken to UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus, and pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m. Mr. Harrigan will be arraigned tomorrow in Worcester Central District Court.
Police interviewed several witnesses yesterday and believe the fight involved an ongoing landlord/tenant dispute.
Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Brown and a friend stood outside the apartment's side door, which is on Emmett Court. Dried blood was caked on the doorknob, which Ms. Brown believes Mr. Harrigan touched when he ran to his first-floor apartment to get a machete.
According to relatives, Mr. Abbey must have just come home from work when he encountered Mr. Harrigan in the stairwell or outside the three-decker. Mrs. Abbey said her husband was a technician at Evergreen Solar Inc. in Marlboro, and did housekeeping work for the Marriott hotel chain. He was planning to take the test for his general equivalency diploma Wednesday.
It was at a GED class, Mrs. Abbey said, that Mr. Abbey met the man who would later be charged with his death. She said the men were more like acquaintances than good friends. Occasionally, Mr. Abbey would give Mr. Harrigan a ride home from class.
In the fall, when the Abbeys were living in a different Worcester apartment, Mr. Harrigan said they should consider moving to Douglas Street, where his father maintained a three-decker with two vacant apartments. Having another tenant would help pay for the water bill, he said, according to Ms. Brown.
In October, they moved to the second floor, directly above Mr. Harrigan's apartment. Recently, the extended family (which includes Ms. Brown and her children), made plans to leave.
“Kodjo had been avoiding the landlord lately,” Ms. Brown said. “We weren't happy with some of the things that were going on here.”
Ms. Brown did not give specific examples of the maintenance problems the family encountered, but said she couldn't imagine anything so serious that it would lead to a fatal meeting between her stepfather and Mr. Harrigan. She described her stepfather as a quiet man, a hard-worker who avoided confrontation.
Wilfred Perez, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Abbeys, said he got home at 2 a.m. yesterday and learned there had been a fight. He couldn't believe it was Mr. Abbey, who he suspects never would have said hello to him if he hadn't said hello first.
“If I hadn't introduced myself to him, we never would have known each other,” Mr. Perez said.
Mr. Boateng, the family friend, said Mr. Abbey “was not the type of person who goes asking for something like this.”
Ms. Brown, meanwhile, says she keeps running the gruesome scene through her mind: Mr. Harrigan leaving her debilitated stepfather and returning only to attack him some more, this time with a machete.
“He couldn't defend himself,” she said. “Why would he come back again?”