L. Antonio Litman was a fixture in his Brooklyn community, known for his generosity. He ran a charity that provided meals and college scholarships to needy families, and for Christmas he bought hoverboards for children in his neighborhood.
“He was a giving guy,” said Russell Bullock, 55, who used to live in the neighborhood, Fort Greene, and had known Mr. Litman for about 30 years. “If he had too much food, he would give you a plate.”
Early Monday, neighbors were stunned to learn that Mr. Litman was dead after a fire ripped through his rowhouse, on Adelphi Street, around 3:20 a.m. After the flames were extinguished, the authorities said, firefighters found Mr. Litman unconscious, with puncture wounds to his head and back.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
The police said they were looking into the possibility of a robbery, but would not provide further details on the investigation.
News of Mr. Litman’s death quickly spread beyond Brooklyn. He had made friends around the world as a longtime employee of International Registries, a shipping and financial services company.
“Antonio had a warm personality and a shining countenance,” said Clay Maitland, his close friend and boss at International Registries. “He just charmed everyone he met. He was one of the happiest, nicest, most welcoming, decent human beings I’ve ever known. I’m not saying that lightly. He was kindness itself.”
Mr. Litman was raised in South Carolina by his grandparents and later took a job in New York City, in the mailroom of International Registries. After a few years, he became a personal assistant to Mr. Maitland, a managing partner.
Around 2004, Mr. Maitland asked Mr. Litman to take over the charity that his mother, Virginia Maitland Sachs, had started before her death. Ms. Sachs had married into the Goldman-Sachs family and had been devoted to philanthropy.
Mr. Litman eagerly took the helm of the nonprofit, which was renamed Virginia’s House of Hope. It donated to the homeless, students and young families, and offered college scholarships.
“The fact that he had grown up in poverty and want, he felt a great sense of sympathy for the poor and homeless,” Mr. Maitland said. “He was a very compassionate guy.”
Mr. Litman, who was in his mid-50s, lived alone and had recently considered renting out part of his home to make extra money, Mr. Maitland said. The authorities did not say if others were inside the house at the time of the fire.
On Monday afternoon, his block was cordoned off with police tape. Gospel music played nearby, and a sign that read “Hope” hung in one of Mr. Litman’s windows.
People passing by praised his altruism. One mentioned that Mr. Litman had bought hoverboards as gifts for young neighbors; another said he had once paid for a “Star Wars”-themed birthday party for a resident’s son.
Around the corner, at Imani Caribbean Kitchen and Bar, Lisa Boone, 50, and her friend Angela Panton, 50, each raised a glass to Mr. Litman.
“In this neighborhood, you have the all-star cast,” Ms. Boone said. “He was one of the cast.”
The notion that someone might have violently attacked Mr. Litman was particularly unsettling. Jeanne Vass, 62, said she had woken early Monday to the sound of sirens. When she learned about the puncture wounds, she was reminded of her son’s recent mugging nearby.
“They jumped him, stomped him and robbed him,” Ms. Vass said.
While killings and other violent crimes in the city ticked upward in 2019, police officials and experts say the increase in murders is relatively small in raw numbers, and does not necessarily signal a new trend.
Across the street from Mr. Litman’s home, Chris Cannon, 47, was watching his son, a sixth grader, shoot hoops at a playground. Mr. Cannon, an 18-year resident of Fort Greene, said that although he hadn’t known Mr. Litman, he was unnerved by news of his death.
“When I saw the crime scene truck — that’s not something you see around here often,” Mr. Cannon said.
Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting.