From Michael Jackson impersonator to harrowing death: Who was the homeless man killed on the NYC subway?
Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man, was killed in a New York City subway train on Monday afternoon after he apparently suffered a mental health episode, leading a fellow passenger to wrestle him to the floor with the help of two others, holding him in a chokehold.
The shocking incident was captured on phone video at the scene, sparking debate among New Yorkers about the rights and wrongs of the vigilante’s actions and the extent to which Neely’s behaviour could have been interpreted as a threat to the safety of his fellow passengers.
Eyewitness Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist, told The New York Post precisely what happened after Neely boarded the northbound F train at Second Avenue station.
“He starts to make a speech. He started screaming in an aggressive manner,” Mr Vazquez said.
“He said he had no food, he had no drink, that he was tired and doesn’t care if he goes to jail. He started screaming all these things, took off his jacket, a black jacket that he had, and threw it on the ground.”
It was at this point that the stranger, reported to be a 24-year-old Marine veteran, stepped in to tackle Neely, whose death has already inspired angry protests denouncing the injustice as authorities continue their investigations before deciding whether or not to press charges against the younger man.
The victim’s father, Andre Zachery, has since given an interview to The New York Daily News in which he said that he had not seen his son for four years but that Neely had experienced tragedy as a teenager when his mother, Christine Neely, 36, was murdered by her boyfriend Shawn Southerland.
Her body was found in a suitcase by the side of the Henry Hudson Parkway in the Bronx in 2007 and Jordan Neely had testified at Southerland’s trial aged 18, which ultimately saw the defendant convicted and sentenced to 30 years in jail in 2012.
“His mother perished; she also got killed. And him now? Her boyfriend fatally shot her. And he now? By another person?” Mr Zachery said.
The deceased’s aunt, Carolyn Neely, told The Post: “My sister Christie was murdered in 2007 and after that, he has never been the same.
“It had a big impact on him. He developed depression and it grew and became more serious. He was schizophrenic, PTSD. Doctors knew his condition and he needed to be treated for that.
“The whole system just failed him. He fell through the cracks of the system.”
But Jordan Neely grew up to be known as an expert Michael Jackson impersonator, performing on the subway and in Times Square, his skills evident in a number of videos widely shared on social media in the wake of his death.
This was Jordan Neely, a hungry New Yorker choked to death by a grinning Marine who is being celebrated as a hero by NYPD and press. His offense? “Aggressive speech”, throwing his jacket on the ground and asking for food and water. pic.twitter.com/F3rRj30rQL
— Rafael Shimunov (@rafaelshimunov) May 3, 2023
Jordan Neely was lynched.
He had no food, no water, no safe place to rest. He had the audacity to publicly yell about that massive injustice, so they killed him. pic.twitter.com/LBSl1aMiQz
— Jabari Brisport (@JabariBrisport) May 3, 2023
A neighbour of Mr Zachery’s told The Daily News that dancing had enabled Neely to deal with the mental health issues he had suffered in the wake of his mother’s murder.
“He used to get tough,” they said. “He knew how to move. A moonwalk. He was always pleased doing it. He would do it while he was getting ready to go to work. He used to be fantastic.”
Another person who knew Neely, minister Ray Tarvin, told The Guardian: “He was a nice person, not aggressive or violent. Everyone who knew him knows that.
“He’d accept anything you had – many of the homeless down here are sober. They’re needing food or shelter or clothing, not strung out and shooting up dope.”
Jason Williams, a fellow New Yorker, recalled enjoying Neely’s Jackson act on the streets and told The Daily Mail: “He embodied the hustle spirit of New York. He was a great performer and it’s a real tragedy that he [died] so senselessly.”