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Spat between Bronx residents, squatters breaks out in deadly violence, leaving couple’s families devastated

After two lovers were killed amid a dispute between squatters and longtime residents of a Bronx building, their devastated families are left mourning the loss — and confused about how the confrontation turned deadly.

“It’s as if my heart was in her hands, and they shattered it,” the daughter of victim Claretha Daniels told the Daily News on Monday.

Daniels, 44, and boyfriend Justin Lawless, 36, were hanging out with neighbors outside their building on Davidson Ave. near Evelyn Place in Fordham Heights just after midnight on May 24 when Daniels said that one of the squatters had uttered something disrespectful to her.

The situation quickly spiraled as her friend, Everett Slade confronted the person, who then went into the building and reemerged with a posse ready to attack, according to the NYPD.

Slade, 40, fought a squatter, according to police — and then another part of the crew pulled out a gun and shot at the three victims while fleeing, blasting Daniels and Lawless in the chest and Slade in the arm.

“I can’t even understand what happened or how it escalated to that point,” Jazmine Lawless, Justin Lawless’ sister, told The News.

Jazmine, just 10 months younger than her brother, does not live with him and wasn’t present when the shooting happened.

“He wasn’t a confrontational person in the least,” she said. “So if anything, he probably would have tried to de-escalate the situation before it got to a point of that.”

Justin Lawless, 36, a father of three fatally shot in the Bronx.

Courtesy family

Justin Lawless, 36, a father of three fatally shot in the Bronx on May 24. (Courtesy family)

Jazmine described the father of three as always having a smile on his face and being protective of those he loved.

“He was one of the best, actually, a sweetheart,” she said. “Didn’t really get into anything with anybody. He’d love and protect everyone in his family.”

Lawless and his 9-year-old son, now an orphan, had been living with Daniels, his girlfriend of about a year, the sister said. Lawless loved spending time with his family and had two other children, both 16, doing delivery work and odds jobs to make a living.

“I’m praying for them differently than I have in the past,” Jazmine said of the children. “They have to be loved on in a different type of manner at this point.”

Daniels worked hard to make ends meet as a home health aide. She took pride in her work and was popular with her patients, sometimes even taking her daughter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, along on jobs.

“She drove me crazy, but I loved her greatly,“ said Daniels’ still-shaken daughter, who appeared to be in her 20s. She described her mom as a “wonderful mother” who raised her alone and noted they lived together in the building.

The sixth floor apartment occupied by alleged shooter Josue Silva and other migrants at 2290 Davidson Avenue in the Bronx.

Kerry Burke

The sixth-floor apartment occupied by alleged shooter Josue Silva and other migrants in a Bronx residential building. (Kerry Burke)

Neighbors said that the conflict between squatters and longtime residents had been simmering since a group of six migrants moved into an apartment in the building about six months ago — amid an ongoing surge in new arrivals to New York City. Police also described the squatters as migrants, though they did not provide detail about their backgrounds.

Multiple residents characterized the Davidson Ave. building as rife with violence and drug use.

Several apartments at a time were being illicitly rented out, according to neighbors. A woman who lives on the sixth floor said one man was running the operation — prompting another neighbor to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to raid the apartment in question.

ICE has not carried out any raids at the building, according to agency spokesperson Emilio Dabul.

“When he heard about my girlfriend bragging about calling ICE, he threatened our lives,” the neighbor said of the ringleader. “He said, ‘Don’t f–k with my money.’”

Three siblings of Justin Lawless gather at his memorial.

Courtesy family

Three siblings of Justin Lawless gather at his memorial. (Courtesy family)

The lock on the building’s front door is broken despite multiple attempts to repair it, building manager Sam Martinez told The News, making it easy for those without keys to enter the site.

The building is managed by Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation, a non-profit that operates affordable housing across the city. Martinez said that the incident was a “sign of the times” and that violence, squatters and safety concerns are issues across many of the organization’s buildings.

The Davidson Ave. site has added a 24/7 security desk since the incident, the building manager said.

According to police, the incident began when the group of residents went to confront the migrants — who emerged from the building with bats, knives and other weapons, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said.

Slade confronted and fought one of the migrants and started to get the better of them.

Then a migrant, Josue Silva, 21, stepped forward and shot Slade in the arm. He also fired at Daniels and Lawless as he ran off, cops said.

Silva has six prior arrests from this year, mostly for larceny, and is a suspect in a May robbery pattern in which he and other suspects would often flee on mopeds.

Slade declined to comment to The News but said he was “grieving” the loss of his two friends.

Silva, originally from Venezuela, is also connected to a non-fatal shooting in February in which a migrant shot himself in the hand, Kenny said. Another man was arrested in that incident but said Silva gave him the gun. Silva was then charged in that case.

He is still at large, cops said.


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