SCHENECTADY — When Claire Morales’ husband heard someone crying for help Saturday morning, Morales looked out the window.
She saw her neighbor and friend Elizabeth Gonzalez on fire. Police now say Gonzalez’ husband, Antonio Bargallo, intentionally set her on fire after an argument at their 146 Elmer Ave. residence.
“I just grabbed a blanket and ran downstairs, covered her up with it and tried to put her out,” Morales recalled, standing outside her residence Monday morning.
“It’s awful to see,” she added. “It’s not something I would want anybody to see.”
Paramedics took Gonzalez, 48, to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit, but she died of her injuries Sunday morning.
Bargallo, 69, appeared in court Monday afternoon, handcuffed, shackled and wearing orange jail clothing.
He had been charged over the weekend with attempted murder and other counts filed before Gonzalez’ death, but he is now expected to face more serious charges. On Monday, Judge Mark Caruso ordered Bargallo held without bail.
Defense attorney Beau Melita, of the public defender’s office, asked that bail be set at $5,000, saying Bargallo has been a local resident for nearly 40 years.
Prosecutor Michael DeMatteo asked that no bail be set, citing the seriousness of the charges and general evidence against Bargallo. DeMatteo also cited Bargallo’s ties to other states in his criminal history, including Connecticut and Minnesota.
A group of Gonzalez’ family and friends attended the court appearance; they left afterward without speaking to reporters.
At Gonzalez’ house Monday, which sustained fire damage during Saturday’s incident, the front door was boarded up, and mourners had left candles and flowers honoring Gonzalez.
“Liz, I’ll miss you,” a note left on one bouquet read.
After covering Gonzalez with the blanket, Morales stayed with her and tried to comfort her until paramedics arrived.
“I was able to do that,” Morales said of comforting Gonzalez. “At least I hope I did anyways.”
Gonzalez owned the house since 2011, property records show. Records list Gonzalez as the sole owner.
Morales said Gonzalez and Bargallo, though, were married long before they moved to the street. Morales said Bargallo had always been pleasant in his dealings with her and her children.
Newspaper and court records show Bargallo was arrested in 1999 for possession of a handgun in Hamilton Hill. He failed to return to court, and the case wasn’t concluded until 2005, court records show, when Bargallo pleaded guilty to a weapons count and received time served.
Gonzalez worked as a teacher’s aid at the Schenectady City School District and had two grown sons, Morales said. Her sons lived with their mother, but were not home at the time of the attack.
“She was great and she was very friendly,” Morales said. “She always said ‘hi’ to all the kids in the neighborhood. She worked with kids. She loved kids.”
Gonzalez worked for the district for more than 20 years, most recently at Oneida Middle School, the district said in a statement.
“Elizabeth was well-liked and respected by students, staff and families,” the district’s statement reads. It also called her death “a significant loss to our school community.”
The district has mobilized its crisis team, including counselors and social workers. They are available now to provide counseling and support to students and staff, the district said.
Morales said she had Gonzalez’ sons over to her house Sunday. They are devastated, she said.
Morales started a GoFundMe page for the family, called “Unite for Elizabeth and her 2 sons.” Donations neared $1,600 by early Monday afternoon.
“She was a beautiful woman,” Morales said, “she really was.”
Gonzalez would be the second person in Schenectady killed after being set on fire by a family member since August, if the circumstances of those cases are proven.
Andrell Leppanen, 29, is accused of killing his step-father Kevin Hawkins after dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire at their 925 Bridge St. residence Aug. 29. Hawkins, 59, succumbed to his injuries two months later. The murder case against Leppanen is pending.