The man he killed

Shooting victim William Long was painted as a dangerous vagrant. His friends say otherwise.

But a next-door neighbor, Matthew Armstrong, says he heard racial epithets ("You fucking nigger") coming from the direction of Sanchez's house that early morning.

"I just want to get the copper." That's what Armstrong remembers hearing Long say.

Many in the Mill Creek area--an up-and-coming gentrified neighborhood with a mix of cheap boarding homes and apartments, as well as finely restored homes--believe that the defense unfairly branded the neighborhood as a dark, pervasive place, one that would have made any resident feel under siege.

In the five years Hilda Van Wormer, below, knew him, William McKinley Long worked on and off renovating homes for her.
Alyssa Banta
In the five years Hilda Van Wormer, below, knew him, William McKinley Long worked on and off renovating homes for her.
Hilda Van Wormer
Hilda Van Wormer

"If someone was shot because East Dallas was a crummy neighborhood, there would be dead bodies lying all over the ground," says Jeff Siegel, a writer who recently moved from his Mill Creek home (about six blocks from the shooting) after 15 years there. In that time, though, he was never burglarized. He never owned a gun.

"The lawyer put the neighborhood on trial," adds Marianna Armstrong, a paralegal who lives next door to Sanchez and whose 30-year-old son Matthew heard the shots that early morning. Since she and her family moved into their two-story home six years ago, they haven't had a problem with crime.

And William Long often walked those streets. For several years, Armstrong's daughter-in-law Emily would hear Long pushing his cart at five in the morning, just as she was getting ready to start her day as a contractor at Texas Instruments. Or she would see him at the bus stop. "He never gave any trouble," says the 29-year-old woman.

A few days before the shooting, William Long saw Matthew Armstrong outside his home. Long asked for work. Armstrong didn't have anything for him at the time, he says now, but offered him a few dollars. Long declined. He didn't accept handouts.

It had been more than a decade since Long, a former postal worker from New York, had lapsed into cocaine addiction and left behind both his family and a police record in New York that included several arrests for the possession and sale of a controlled substance and grand larceny. In the years that followed, he came to Texas for reasons his daughter doesn't know.

His friend Van Wormer says simply that he had some drug problems there and that he has a sister in Dallas. Long, according to Van Wormer, was estranged from his sister. (Several family members declined to be interviewed or could not be reached for comment for this story.)

In his more sober days here, Long worked as a contract laborer, cleaning up around construction sites for $25 to $30 a day and spending many of his nights at the Austin Street Shelter. His last year, though, he became frustrated with the low pay and gave up the work, says the shelter's executive director, the Rev. Bubba Dailey. Instead, he spent most of his time wheeling his pushcart around the city, scrounging up metal to sell as scrap at the nearby shack called "Cans for Cash."

He became a particular fixture of Munger Place's streets. Often, residents would leave bags of cans outside their homes for him to pick up, and, like clockwork, he did.

"He was the most polite, respectful person, truly, that I've met in my entire life," says Nancy Sanford, a resident in the area who dutifully left a bag of cans for him to pick up every Saturday. Like many of the women whom he encountered, Long preceded her name with the title "Miss."

"He, Hilda, and I sat on the front stoop, and he wouldn't go further. He wouldn't trespass.

"He believed in God, so I rest easy that he's in heaven," she says. "[But] he never went into detail about his life."

Like most homeless people, William Long--known in homeless circles as "New York" or "New Yorker"--was always on the go.

"New Yorker was my best friend; he was my heart," says a 38-year-old homeless woman walking near the Austin Street Shelter. (She declines to give her name because she doesn't like that "publicity bullshit.") She knew him for 10 years, says the woman, whose face shows raw, red patches from severe sunburn.

"New Yorker was a good man," she adds, her breath reeking of alcohol. "He was trying to survive, dammit...He wouldn't mess with nobody, girl.

"He fed me," she says in a loud, scratchy voice. "He gave me tennis shoes, socks, pants. The last thing New Yorker gave me is a black T-shirt."

Still, in the 10 years she knew him, she never knew that he had a daughter.

"New Yorker got a daughter?" she asks, cocking her head to the side. "You're kidding."

He gave to others too. "He would bring stuff that others threw away," says 56-year-old Oscar Flores, who runs a nearby thrift shop in a small storefront, the back room of which serves as a home for himself and his wife and small son.

"He used to give cookies, toys," says Flores' young son, peering over the couch in the cramped, humid shop. "He gave us that tank of fish," he says, pointing to a tank in the back filled with goldfish and a catfish.

Old and new items--bras, sneakers, and other clothing--line the shelves of this shop in Munger Place. The day before, Flores had made $10.

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