All it took was a shrug from a stranger to send accused killer Franklin Mesa overboard, recalls a Bronx man who was allegedly attacked by the “neighborhood menace” last year.
Mesa, 19, was charged with murder on Saturday for the allegedly unprovoked murder of beloved Norwood resident Nathaniel Rivers, 35, who was stabbed to death in front of his horrified wife.
When Mesa — who is now being held behind bars on $500,000 cash bond or $1.5 million bail after appearing in Bronx Criminal Court in the murder case — allegedly jumped on a Bryan An unsuspecting Diaz in April 2021, was arrested for assault — and quickly released.
“I think he came out the next day,” Diaz, now 20, told The Post.
“I was really mad at the whole situation. When he was arrested, the cops kind of shrugged my shoulders when I asked what else we could do. They were like, ‘you don’t can’t really do much because the system protects him because he has a mental illness. And I was, like, ‘thank you?’ I was really angry because if he could do this to me, he could do this to someone else or try to kill them.
Diaz and her mother, Gabriella Calderon, were walking home from her aunt’s house last year when they passed Mesa on the street.
Mesa said hello to Calderon. Since neither knew Mesa, Diaz said he shrugged in confusion.
Mesa then punched Diaz, attacking him from behind, the victim recalled.
The two began brawling on the sidewalk, with Diaz managing to land a blow on Mesa with his umbrella. Mesa then entered his apartment building to call his loved ones, Diaz said.
Diaz escaped the assault with just a bloody nose, he said, but was furious at the police response.
Mesa also allegedly sliced another neighbor in the face last year, according to Diaz and fellow resident Jay Rodriguez, though law enforcement could not confirm the incident.
The deadly attack that ultimately threw Mesa behind bars happened Thursday at East 205 Street and Decatur Avenue, when authorities and neighbors said the schizophrenic young man approached Rivers and began trading words with him.
Mesa then suddenly plunged a knife into Rivers’ chest as his wife watched horrified, cops said, fatally wounding the father of one of them, who was well-liked in the neighborhood.
Diaz was dismayed to learn that Mesa allegedly killed Rivers.
“It’s sad. I think the system really screwed up and allowed this to happen,” he said. “They could have done more to prevent it.”
Franklin Mesa’s grandmother, Ramona Santos, defended her grandson and said he was visiting his mother and siblings on 180th Street when the assault took place.
“When he got home that day, he didn’t have any blood or bruises on him or anything,” Santos told the Post through an interpreter on Saturday. “He just got home, watched TV and fell asleep.”
An angry downstairs neighbor heckled Mesa’s grandmother while she spoke with The Post.
“Your boy should f-king burn in hell,” he shouted. “He killed my friend.
Santos said Mesa had been seeing a doctor to treat his schizophrenia for seven years and taking multiple prescriptions every day. She gave the Post a list of medications he was supposed to take daily, including the antipsychotic Clozapine, which is used to treat schizophrenia. The other medications were laxatives, probiotics and iron, and he was also instructed to use an inhaler for lung issues.
Surveillance video shows Mesa driving to the scene of the murder and then fleeing minutes later with a large knife in his hand, prosecutors said during his court appearance on Saturday. The video also shows him dropping the knife in a stranger’s yard and “running back to his mother’s house,” the Bronx District Attorney’s Office claimed.
Mesa lives with his grandmother and aunt, defense attorney Michael Rooney told the court, describing Mesa as “disabled” and noting that he is not in school.
Mesa appeared in court wearing a wrinkled white t-shirt, black shorts, black socks and white sneakers. He wore a surgical mask and had his head tilted the whole time. Her aunt and grandmother were in the back row of the court, but they declined to comment.
Mesa was the type of person people in the neighborhood tend to avoid, said Rodriguez, 34, who has been friends with Rivers for 25 years.
“He assaulted an individual last year – sliced him in the face. So what is he still doing in the street? Rodríguez said. “We didn’t see him for a month, then he came home. What’s the point?”
A memorial to Rivers outside his building included a notice board with his picture on it, messages from loved ones, two empty brandy bottles and at least 50 prayer candles.
Rodriguez described Rivers as the neighborhood mayor.
“Whenever someone passed by, they would always say ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’,” he said. “If anyone needed help with their grocery bags, he’s the one helping them.”
“I am distraught,” he continued. “You see the guy one day and then he’s gone the next day. I will never see his smile again.