Jan. 28—On Wednesday afternoon, Janiyah Williams dropped off her best friend Arisleidy Batista at the apartment Batista shared with her boyfriend at 48 Granite St. in New London. The two had gone out to get away from Batista's boyfriend, who'd been spiraling that day in a jealous rage. Batista wanted to leave him, Williams said, and he didn't like that idea.
Before Batista walked back into her house, Williams asked her friend if she was going to be OK.
"She said 'What's he going to do, kill me?'" Williams said. "And that's exactly what he did."
A few hours later, police responded to reports of shots fired near Granite Street. On their way to the scene, they learned of a fire at 48 Granite St., according to the New London Police Department. Two people were found unconscious inside the burning house; one was pronounced dead at the scene and the other was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead, city police said.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Thursday that Batista, 18, died from gunshot wounds to her head, torso and extremities. Her death was ruled a homicide. Nikeuri Rodriguez, Batista's boyfriend of about one year, died of a single gunshot wound to his head. His death was ruled a suicide.
'She was trying to leave him'
As police and fire officials still swarmed the large white and blue house on Granite Street in the frigid cold Thursday afternoon, Williams recalled how her friend had been trying to break up with Rodriguez.
"She was trying to leave him and he was acting crazy, saying he was going to kill himself if she did," she said. The day her friend died, she'd seen Rodriguez getting angrier and more desperate.
About 4 p.m. Wednesday, Williams and Batista went to Planet Fitness to work out. They took a photo of their reflection in one of the gym's mirrors, Batista wearing a light blue hooded sweatshirt and black shorts with her hair pulled back.
Arisleidy Batista, left, and Janiyah Williams at Planet Fitness on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 26, 2022, just hours before Batista was killed. (Courtesy of Janiyah Williams)
After their workout, they went back to the third-floor apartment Batista had been sharing with Rodriguez for about four months so Batista could make them post-workout smoothies, according to Williams. When they got to the house, Rodriguez "pulled up as if he was stalking her."
Williams said that Batista had been confiding in her about the issues she was having with Rodriguez; she told Williams that earlier Wednesday, before he'd gone to work, Rodriguez had set up an old phone to record her conversations all day long.
His anger escalated while Batista was in the kitchen, chopping frozen fruit for the smoothies with a steak knife. He stormed in and began hurling accusations at her about things he'd heard on the 9-hour recording, Williams said.
"He goes up to her pressing her about the recording, asking her about if she was moving on, about other boys," she said. "It probably built up his anger or something."
Williams said she watched Rodriguez grab her friend's wrist and twist her arm toward him, aiming the knife at his chest. "Stab me, stab me," she heard him say. "Kill me."
Williams wanted to get her friend out of the house and away from Rodriguez. She was planning to go to Walmart to get school supplies before settling in for a night of homework, and convinced Batista to go with her.
"Take this ride with me and maybe by the time we come back, he'll calm down," she told her.
While they were at Walmart, Williams heard Batista call her mom, who lives in the Dominican Republic. Batista had moved to New London from the Dominican Republic while she was in middle school, Williams said; Batista's father, sister, grandparents and some aunts and uncles live here, too.
On the call, Batista told her mom she was scared and that she was going to sleep at her sister's house that night. But she never got there.
On their way back to New London, Williams said Batista kept getting texts from Rodriguez — he sent her a photo of their rent money, saying he was going to take it all and leave. Batista didn't want to be evicted, Williams said. She decided to go home to get the money.
"I'm gonna just get the money and I'm gonna leave," Williams recalled her friend saying.
So, Williams dropped her off outside 48 Granite St., and went home to do her homework. A few hours later, Williams texted Batista, "did u get it?" — referring to the rent money.
Screenshot of texts exchanged between Arisleidy Batista and Janiyah Williams on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 26, 2022, just hours before Batista was killed. (Courtesy of Janiyah Williams)
There was no response.
A half-hour later, she texted again, "u good?"
Not long after she sent that last text, Williams said she got a call from Batista's sister. She hadn't heard from Batista and was getting worried.
Then, another call.
Batista was dead, her sister told Williams.
Police were still investigating Thursday afternoon — parts of Granite Street remained closed to traffic, cordoned off by crime scene tape and police vehicles. Officers from the New London Police Department were on scene, along with officials from the Connecticut State Police Eastern District Major Crime Squad and state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Just after 4 a.m. Thursday, New London police had issued a statement saying they were investigating the shooting and fire. They said two people were dead but hadn't released further details.
But for Batista's friends and family, the news traveled fast.
Batista's mother, Kilsy Castillo, told The Day about her daughter's death Thursday afternoon. "My daughter was noble, and that despicable man took her," Castillo said in a Facebook message that was translated from Spanish. "Everyone loved her, she was brilliant."
According to her friends, Batista had lived in New London for at least six years and had graduated from New London High School in 2020. She was studying to become a nurse, Williams said, and working as a certified nursing assistant in Waterford.
"She was really grinding, really working hard right now," said Olivia Yard, who had been friends with Batista for years.
Yard, 19, of New London said when she woke up Thursday morning, she saw friends posting pictures of Batista on Snapchat with messages that said "rest in peace." She talked to Batista's close friends and was told that Batista had died, but said she didn't know exactly what had happened.
Yard said she met Batista while they were in high school. She described her as a supportive friend with a contagious laugh and a radiant smile. "She just had a bubbly personality you always wanted to be around her."
"She had such a beautiful smile," Yard continued. "She just got her braces off, which she was super happy about." When they were in school, she and Batista would "always get in trouble for laughing too much and talking too loud."
"When she would laugh, you would laugh because it was so infectious," Yard said.
The friends loved to dance together and sing their favorite song, a tune called "Let Me Take Ya'll Way Back" by Rome G. Just last week, Yard said, they were sending Snapchat videos back and forth singing it.
Yard said Batista was also a confidant — a supportive friend who helped her through a tough breakup and "would always give life advice and even relationship advice."
Another friend of Batista, Melaysha Burres, 19, of New London, said she also remembered Batista's contagious laugh. "She just made everybody laugh and always had such a positive energy," she said. "Her energy was unmatched."
Burres also graduated with Batista; she said they met freshman year, and the two remained friends all four years. She last saw Batista on the day of their graduation, but reached out to her recently. "I texted her two days ago and said 'I miss you, I hope we can see each other soon.'" Batista didn't text her back.
It wasn't yet clear how the fire on the third floor of the home, where two broken windows revealed a charred interior, had started.
New London Fire Department Chief Thomas Curcio said the fire was still under investigation by the city and state fire marshal offices and the police.
It also was unclear whether the Granite Street incident was related to a shooting earlier Wednesday night in another neighborhood, in which no injuries were reported. In a separate news release, city police Capt. Matthew Galante said that at 7:11 p.m., police were called to the area of Jefferson Avenue and Boulder Drive for a report of shots fired and possible bullet holes inside a home. The incident does not appear to be random and remains under investigation, he said. On Thursday evening, police said they were investigating the two incidents separately but could not yet say for sure whether they were connected.
The American Red Cross said in a statement Thursday that it was helping seven families affected by the fire at 48 Granite St., including nine adults who were displaced from their home. There are nine apartments in the building, Curcio said.
Editor's Note: New London police Capt. Matthew Galante's full name and rank were omitted from an earlier version of this story.