Flowers, candles honor homeless woman set on fire in Van Nuys
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The homeless woman was a familiar presence at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way. Employees at the nearby businesses knew her habits, if not her name.
She was a small woman with a pale, creased face -– probably in her 70s or 80s, but no one really knew. Every morning, she bought a pack of Grand Prix cigarettes with exact change at the United Oil gas station, said cashier Mauricio Gutierrez. Every night, she curled up on a bus bench outside the 24-hour Walgreens and tried to sink into sleep.
The bench has three seats, some graffiti, a gold-and-turquoise advertisement for a maker of eyeglasses. It could not have been comfortable.
That’s where police found the woman early Thursday, after a man doused her with a flammable liquid and set her ablaze. She was whisked to a hospital, where she remains in critical condition.
Police arrested her alleged assailant. His name was not immediately released.
As Van Nuys residents awoke to the news, a few made a pilgrimage to the intersection.
The air outside brisk, Robyn Turkus and her housemates ducked into the Walgreens and bought some potted poinsettias and religious candles. They placed them on the bench, its advertisement partly cracked and blackened, giving it the appearance of lizard skin.
Turkus, 48, helps run a sober-living home nearby, where she said she found refuge after a stint in prison on drug charges and a period of sleeping next to a freeway. She said she could imagine how the woman felt before she was attacked. ‘You’re already sleeping with one eye open. You’re cold, you’re hungry,’ she said.
Barbara Weiss, 57, stopped by as well. She works for a company that provides transportation to the handicapped. Her heart lurches whenever she sees the homeless on the street, particularly as the temperature drops.
‘This is horrible,’ she said. ‘All this woman did was try to sit out here and get warm.’
Had she seen the woman before?
‘I probably have,’ she said. ‘I just don’t know.’
-- Ashley Powers, Adolfo Flores and Irfan Khan