Van Nuys, CA – Police have accused 24-year-old Dennis Petillo of pouring a flammable liquid on a homeless woman sleeping on a bus bench and then setting her on fire. He has been booked into jail on suspicion of attempted murder.
Witnesses say that at about 1 a.m. Thursday, Petillo walked out of the 24-hour Walgreens near Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way. He then poured a liquid — possibly rubbing alcohol — on a homeless woman as she slept on a nearby bus bench, then set her ablaze with a match.
“It was like when you pour gasoline on something, like an explosion,” said Erickson Ipina, who followed Petillo after he took off running. “I pulled out my cellphone and called 911, and then he just turned back on me and pulled out a knife,” said Ipina.
The victim’s identity has not been officially released, but friends say she is Flo “Violet” Parker, a woman in her 60s and a fixture of the neighborhood. She was listed in critical condition at a local hospital with burns all over her body. Homeless advocates say that if she recovers, they will take her in to live with them.
Parker reportedly slept on that park bench every night and usually spent a couple afternoons a week at the Central Lutheran Church, where groundskeeper William Gonzalez said Parker mentioned she’d once been a nurse and had two children.
“She never had a bad word for anyone,” said Gonzales, who has known Parker for seven years. “She smiles and says, ‘God bless you’ to you. She never, ever asked for change.”
LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said they don’t know why Petillo attacked Parker, or if he even knew her. “There was no incident or dispute or clear motivation for this horrific attack. He did not know his victim. It defies explanation,” Albanese said. “The motive is mental illness.”
The bus bench Parker was sleeping on has since been turned into a memorial, with strangers leaving well-wishes, flowers, and candles for Parker. That would be heart-warming if it weren’t for the fact that the only time the public gives a shit about the homeless is when some nut eats off their face, or sets them on fire.
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