traveled two or three times a week from his home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, to a comic book store called Forbidden Planet just below Union Square in Manhattan. There, he bought the latest copies of “X-Men” or “Doctor Who,” or sometimes just chatted up the employees, who over the years had become good friends.
For Mr. Babbitt, 62, who friends said was a retired train conductor, the store offered an escape into fantasy and a bit of a respite from home, where he cared for his 94-year-old mother, Lucille Babbitt.
“He was just a really, really, really sweet guy,” said Jeff Ayers, a manager at the store who has known Mr. Babbit for years. “One of our staff just had a baby and he was dying to see pictures.”
Mr. Babbitt was walking through Union Square near Forbidden Planet last Wednesday when he was punched in the face seemingly at random by an assailant who, the police said, declared his intention to “punch the first white man I see.”
After he was hit, Mr. Babbitt fell to the ground, striking his head on the pavement, the police said. The attacker, whom the police identified as Lashawn Marten, then struck two men who came to Mr. Babbitt’s aid, they said.
Mr. Babbitt was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where, the police said, he was eventually declared brain dead and died on Monday morning.
In a neighborhood that had long ago moved past its rough-and-tumble days, the seemingly random act of violence at 3 p.m. in a bustling park came as a shock. The police said that Mr. Marten, 40, had a long history of arrests, some for assault and drug offenses in New York City and in Newburgh, N.Y.
He was arrested shortly after the attack and charged with three counts of assault. With Mr. Babbitt’s death, those charges will most likely be upgraded by a grand jury that is to hear the case on Tuesday, according to the police.
Mr. Marten, who is black, has also gone by the alias Martin Redrick and listed a different birth date, the police said. He was living in supported housing for formerly homeless people and those with psychiatric disabilities provided by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, said Shelley Ruchti, the group’s chief communications officer. She declined to describe the reason for his living there.
On Monday evening, many residents at Mr. Babbitt’s modest brick apartment building on Ocean Avenue in Sheepshead Bay had something nice to say about him, and could only shake their heads at the senselessness of his death.
“He was as good as good can be,” said Audrey Feifer, 75. “This should never have happened, no matter what color this person is.”
Ms. Feifer said Mr. Babbitt, who she said moved to the neighborhood from Florida about 20 years ago, used to insist on giving her rides to bus stops or to buy doughnuts.
Inside the apartment that Mr. Babbitt shared with his mother, Ms. Feifer said, he kept model steam locomotives, stacks of magazines about trains, and many comic books. He often wore shirts showing pictures of fairies and once drove Ms. Feifer out of state to join him at a Fairy-Con gathering, a festival for people who celebrate fairies.
A sister, his only sibling, helped Mr. Babbitt care for their mother, but she died from cancer about two years ago, Ms. Feifer said, and Mr. Babbitt took over all the caretaking responsibilities.
He did not seem to mind, neighbors said.
“He’d say, ‘Hi, Mom!’ so loud everybody could hear it,” said Igor Sapozhnikov, 56. “He loved his mother, and his mother loved him very well.”
Mr. Babbitt’s mother was at his bedside at least part of the time he was in the hospital, said Mr. Ayers, who visited him there. Many neighbors wonder who will care for her now.
Mr. Babbitt’s death came as the police said they were looking for a suspect in another bizarre and possibly racially motivated attack on the M60 bus in Harlem on Friday, Aug. 30.
In that unrelated attack, a man hurled a racial epithet at a 31-year-old Queens man, calling him a “cracker,” before knocking him to the ground and punching him. The victim, whose name was not released, sustained a broken nose and a fractured eye socket. The suspect, described by the police as a black man in his late 30s, fled on foot and had not been located.
At Forbidden Planet, employees were left bereft by Mr. Babbitt’s death, said Mr. Ayers, who broke into tears several times during a short interview.
Mr. Ayers had spoken to Mr. Babbitt the day before the attack when he came to the store looking to pick up a copy of a comic art book called “The Art of Grimm Fairy Tales” that he had ordered. The order had not yet arrived, and Mr. Babbitt was slightly annoyed, Mr. Ayers said.
“He’s been hounding me for weeks and weeks for this book,” he said.
Mr. Ayers said employees were also concerned about Mr. Babbitt’s mother. He said they planned to set up a fund to help continue her care.
“We’re a community here,” he said. “These are people whose lives we’re tied to.”
Jack Begg and J. David Goodman contributed reporting.