The victim found dead inside an abandoned room of a New York City subway station after a fire there turned out to be a homeless man who had once written a book about living in the subways.
Anthony Horton, 43, was a longtime vagrant who made his living selling things people threw out in the trash, the Daily News first reported. After growing up in foster care and briefly staying in shelters, Horton ultimately set up his home underground in the subway tunnels of New York City.
"He described it as peaceful down there, and quiet," Youme Nguyen Ly, the now-Florida-based artist who co-authored the book with Horton, told NBC New York.
Horton had been writing stories and sketching pictures about his decades-long subway experiences when he met Ly on the subway in 2004 and became friends with her.
"He noticed me looking at people's writing on the walls and asked if I was an artist," Ly said. "We talked for a long time riding on the subway, and eventually he invited me to come see how he was living."
The two co-wrote a graphic novel, "Pitch Black," which detailed Horton's life and the grim parts of living underground.
In a review excerpted on Amazon.com, Kirkus Reviews described the book as "powerful," stating the "fluid black-and-white sequential panels" of the work tell Horton's story of "perseverance and hope," adding, "The horrors attendant on homelessness are not sugarcoated, and the language is as raw and gritty as one might expect."
"He wanted to be remembered for his creativity; he was a writer," said Ly. "He was self-disciplined in a lot of ways."
Ly described Horton as chivalrous, "almost like he was from another time," she said. "He was gentle and true to his word and he was really funny."
"I really think his sense of humor helped keep him alive, helped him face difficulties," said Ly. "It must have cultivated his good nature."
Ly said Horton participated in a local theater program for homeless people, and had taught young people in the past.
According to Ly, Horton seemed to recognize the growing risks of living in the subway tunnels, but "he didn't really seem to know another way," she said.
Ly said Horton struggled with alcoholism. She said she was last in touch with him six months ago, when they exchanged emails.
Another friend who knew Horton as a teenager described him as "a profoundly good man who had lived a profoundly rough life."
“He was somebody who throughout all the difficult circumstances had a good spirit and good soul and was unbelievably generous and kind," Jordan Buck, 44, told the Daily News.
The fire was still being investigated Monday, but police said no criminality was suspected.