In a press conference held by Councilwoman Letitia James, Gillespie's daughter, Sheila Gillespie, along with one of her sons, Everett Haynes, her brother J.C. Causey and cousin, Tracy Gillespie, all emotionally shared their memories of the 73-year-old Gillespie, as well as their burdens of having to deal with the sudden death of their beloved, benevolent family member.
“It's been hard, very hard,” said Everett Haynes. “She was the type of person that if she sees something she'll pick it up, she was always looking to help people. To me I feel that's what caused her death in the end.”
On Saturday, December 17, Gillespie was burned to death in the elevator of her apartment building in Prospect Heights by a homeless man, Jerome Isaac who she had helped in the past by providing him with a place to stay while he did handiwork at her apartment from time to time.
Surveillance footage shows the 47-year-old Isaac spraying Gillespie with gasoline before she could step out of the elevator on the fifth floor, where she lived. The video then shows him lighting her on fire with a lighter as she huddled in the elevator.
Isaac fled the scene, but was quickly arrested on Sunday, December 18. He was charged with first-degree murder and arson.
Sheila Gillespie had just posted the pictures to her Facebook wall from her mother's visit to Indiana to see her granddaughter that Thursday before she received the call that Saturday.
“Last year at this time, when my father was ill, I was only able to afford for my daughter and I to go an see him,” she said. “But at the last minute, my mother wired money so that my son could join us thinking that it would be the last time he would see his grandfather. Who ever would have known that it was the last time we would see her.”
Causey's voice broke numerous times as he recalled what kind of person his sister was.
“You hear and read about things when it happens to someone else, but it's a different story when it happens to you,” he said, choking back tears.
Her cousin, Tracy Gillespie, called the crime “horrific and unfathomable.”
“If there is anything that could come out of it,” she said, choking on tears, “let it be that there are elderly people who are looking to help and we all need to join together and be aware of each other's needs.”
At the press conference, James criticized banker Darren Weingrow, who said he would help cover the costs of the funeral expenses and for the family's visit to New York. Weingrow said he had transferred funds to the bank account set up in the wake of her death, but the family had not received it.
That afternoon, James sent out a statement which noted that the money did not reach because of a glitch, but that he would be “picking up the tab.”
In the wake of her death, a rehabilitation fund for Gillespie has been set up to assist her family. Carver Federal Savings Bank is accepting donations for the fund, called the Rehabilitation Fund for Disaster Victims, which was set up by the community with the assistance of James, who knew Gillespie because she worked on her campaign.
Gillespie's cousin also wanted the public to know that there was no romantic relationship between her and Isaac. “This was a homeless man she helped out; it was a relationship of benevolence,” she said. “Even if he was [owed money], nobody deserves what happened to her.”
Gillespie worked at the Forbell Street branch of the United States Postal Service in East New York. She came from a family of eight girls and four boys and was the mother of four children and the grandmother of three.
Waste Management, located in Brooklyn, has offered to help Gillespie's family clean out the apartment.
“We have offered to take care of the waste in terms,” said Rachel Amar of Waste Management. “It's all a strain on the family because they have to close out the apartment, we're trying to be helpful in any way that we can,”
A memorial for Gillespie was held on Friday, December 30, where over 200 people attended.
“We've always been a tight-knit family and she was a very generous person,” Causey said. “We are a strong family and we're going to make it through.”