A backstretch worker at the Belmont Park racetrack in New York was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in a shocking attack Sunday morning ahead of the day’s races, police say. Jose Franco-Martinez, 53, was arrested on a murder charge after the incident, Nassau County police say.
Maria Larin, 51, was stabbed to death about 6:30 a.m., the New York Post reports. She was killed just hours before races were scheduled to be held at the track, which later went on as planned. The murder comes just a week after Justify won the Triple Crown at the same track during the Belmont Stakes.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Larin Was Walking a Horse Around a Barn When Witnesses Heard Screams as She Was Attacked & Stabbed to Death
Maria Larin was walking a horse named Our American Star around Barn 61, where the horse is stabled, when she was attacked, witnesses told Daily Racing Form. Michael Soto, who was walking a horse in the area at the time of the stabbing, told the horse racing website he heard screams and then saw Larin fall to the ground.
Larin was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced dead there, police say.
Detective Lieutenant Stephen Fitzpatrick, of the Nassau County Police Homicide Squad, told the New York Post that Larin was stabbed multiple times. She let go of Our American Star when she was attacked and the spooked horse took off at a gallop, police said.
“Security became alarmed because the horse became free at that point,” Fitzpatrick said. “So when they came responding to see what happened to the horse . . . they discovered (Larin) with multiple stab wounds.”
2. Police Say It Was a ‘Targeted Incident’ & Franco-Martinez Was Taken Into Custody at the Scene by Stablehands & a Guard
After the stabbing, Jose Franco-Martinez tried to flee from the racetrack, but was captured and held by stablehands and a security guard until police arrived to arrest him, Daily Race Form reports. The stablehands and New York Racing Association security guard chased him across the road from the barn and held him down.
“We’ve come to determine that this is not a random act,” Detective Lieutenant Stephen Fitzpatrick told reporters at a press conference. “This is a targeted incident. The person is known to her as a former boyfriend. He is now in custody.”
3. Franco-Martinez Moved to the U.S. From El Salvador With Larin & Previously Worked at the Belmont Park Racetrack
Jose Franco-Martinez is originally from El Salvador and moved to the United States with Maria Larin, according to Daily Race Form. He had returned to his native country at one point, before coming back, sources told the racing site.
Franco-Martinez has an expired license with the New York State Gaming Commission, which oversees horse racing in the state, and the Daily Race Form reports he once worked with Larin at the Belmont racetrack.
“He worked here in the past,” Detective Lieutenant Stephen Fitzpatrick told reporters. “He’s not a current employee.”
It was not immediately known what job Franco-Martinez had at Belmont.
4. Larin, Who Was Remembered for Her ‘Good Heart,’ Worked as a ‘Hot Walker,’ a Person Who Walks Horses After a Workout
Maria Larin was a stable employee for trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal, according to Daily Racing Form. She worked as a hot walker, a person who walks horses after a workout to cool them down.
She was walking Our American Star, a horse owned by Lolita Shivmangal, Doonauth Shivmangal’s daughter. Lolita told Daily Racing Form that Larin, “was a very pleasant woman who had a good heart.” She told the New York Post, Larin, “was a great human being and she didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
Friends and family from El Salvador and the United States mourned the loss of Larin on Facebook, posting tribute messages and photos of her on Sunday.
“She was a really nice woman,” the victim’s friend, Humberto Garcia, said. “Came in here also, always get stuff. She was always trying to send money back to her kid in El Salvador.”
“She was a really nice woman,” Larin’s friend, Humberto Garcia, told WCBS-TV. “She was always trying to send money back to her kid in El Salvador.”
Another stable worker, Enrique Garcia told Newsday that Larin was well-liked by people at the track. “She talked to everybody,” Garcia told the newspaper. He said her death makes her concerned about security at Belmont Park. “Even inside it’s not safe anymore.”
5. Franco-Martinez Was Charged With Second-Degree Murder & Was Scheduled to Be Arraigned Monday Morning
Jose Franco-Martinez was charged with second-degree murder after he was arrested, the Nassau County Police say. Second-degree murder carries a potential sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison.
Franco-Martinez was scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning at the Nassau County District Court in Hempstead, New York, according to WNYW-TV. It is not clear if he has hired an attorney.
Belmont Park, the New York Racing Association (which operates the track) and the New York State Gaming Commission have not commented about the incident.