Her dad was fast asleep when she woke up to go to school, and Emily Heras typically didn’t like to disturb his slumber after a hard night’s work as a sous chef at the famed Cornelia St. Cafe in Greenwich Village.
On Jan. 22, she followed that same routine — heading out of their Brooklyn apartment without waking Romulo Heras, 61. She couldn’t know it would have been the last time she saw him alive, that a teen burglar would slip in through the kitchen window after she left and savagely end his life.
“One of the things I regret is not being able to see him to say goodbye,” Emily Heras, 18, told the Daily News. “I heard him come in that night, and I heard him talk to my stepmom, and I never thought that would be the last time I heard him talk.”
She didn’t find out about the horror awaiting her at home until hours later, when she finished with one of her final trade-school exams at Co-Op Tech, and found 17 missed calls on her phone.
Police say Jahkeem Scott, then 17, broke in and found Heras in his first-floor apartment on Logan St., at about 9 a.m. They said the intruder slashed the sleeping man’s throat, stabbed him in the neck and then lit fires in the bedroom and living room in a sloppy attempt to cover up the crime.
And after taking Heras’ life, cops said, Scott left the man’s home with a pillowcase full of his belongings.
Scott, who has 19 arrests on his record and lives just a few blocks away, would soon be linked to four more area burglaries, one dating to 2011, when he was just 12, police sources said.
At some point, Scott fled, according to cops. But the law caught up with him on May 20 in Virginia, finding him hiding out in an apartment that he and a young woman had rented just two weeks earlier.
As police and U.S. marshals swarmed his door, he briefly approached an apartment window and threw up the blinds. Seeing the amassed law officers, Scott surrendered, said Kevin Connolly, supervisor of the marshals’ fugitive task force in Richmond.
Scott has been awaiting extradition to New York. His family declined comment when reached at their home.
Emily Heras called the alleged killer a complete stranger.
“He only lives like two blocks from our house, but I’ve never seen him,” she said. “It seems like he was looking for a place to steal, to break in.”
She was the last to leave the apartment — Heras’ wife had left earlier to take their 6-year-old daughter to school.
Detectives would later tell her that Scott was checking other apartments in the building, listening to see which ones might be empty, she said.
Aside from her father’s life, she said the thief took nothing of importance — a tablet computer and some fancy-looking wine boxes that were filled with chargers and cheap items.
Heras’ youth stands in sharp contrast to Scott’s background. Born in Ecuador, he started working at age 12 to support his mom and sister, his daughter recalled. He came to America 37 years ago, became a citizen and petitioned to bring his family over.
“Since he came to this country, he started working in restaurants, and he started like a dishwasher, and soon he got to working in the kitchen,” his son, Fredy Heras, 39, said. “He was very responsible, and he liked to cook, loved to cook.”
Heras had worked at the Cornelia St. Cafe for 20 years, and he’d become a fixture there.
“He was the sweetest, most tender, hardest-working person one could hope to have in a position of such unassuming responsibility,” the restaurant posted on its Facebook page shortly after Heras’ death.
He had thought about retiring, Fredy Heras said, but stuck with the job to support his second wife, Silvia — his first died of cancer in 2001 — and their 6-year-old daughter, Tatiana.
He had four children in all, Fredy, Emily, a 37-year-old daughter, Marcia, and little Tatiana.
“He told us kids to never take things for granted,” Emily Heras said.
As for Scott, she said she was shocked that someone so young could avoid capture for so long.
“I was also aware of the fact that some cases go cold and they don’t find the person for years, so I was also preparing myself for that,” she said.
As they mourn their loss, Emily Heras said, one question haunts the family: “Why go to that extreme?”
“He could have overpowered my dad, just knocked him down and ran away,” she said. “Why go through all of that?”
Added Fredy Heras, “Why did he need to do something like that? We don’t understand.”
With Ellen Moynihan
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