Neighbors in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, where Nushawn Williams grew up, remembered him Tuesday as a "troubled kid" who had to scrounge for meals and later sold drugs.
He beat a murder rap at 17.
Now, he is accused of infecting at least 10 young Chautauqua County women with the AIDS virus, and health officials are investigating his claims that he had sex with as many as 50 to 75 women in the past year.
Even his grandmother had few kind words about him, telling the Daily News that she "knew God would punish" her grandson.
"I loved him," said the grandmother, Eleanor Johnson McRae. "But think about all the other people he hurt."
Williams, 20, left Chautauqua County some months ago and returned to New York City, where he had grown up. He recently was living in a tough Bronx neighborhood where he was described Tuesday as a desperate "crackhead" who would beg passing motorists for drug money, smoke crack, then sleep for long stretches of time on a street corner until the craving for the drug shook him awake again.
"The hit, getting high became No. 1 in his life," said a man, who would identify himself only as a friend and drug addict.
Wayne Ridley, 32, a mechanic in a repair garage at the intersection of Baychester Avenue and Boston Road, vouched for what the man said.
"(Williams) was a crackhead and used to sleep right there under that blue blanket lying on the ground," Ridley said, pointing to a fence anchored to a building. "There used to be lots of girls, three, four, who'd smoke crack with him, but I never saw them having sex."
Often when he awoke, Williams begged money from motorists buying
gas outside St. Ann's Auto Repair Garage.
"He just begged and begged," Ridley said. "Sometimes I would give him some of my food. He was homeless."
Williams lived by the law of the jungle, Ridley said.
"I'd see him beat up his friend (the nameless man) over here just to prove he was the toughest on the corner."
The nameless man said nothing about the attacks when asked Tuesday but repeatedly begged for money, "so I can buy a hit."
On East 227th Street, where Williams reportedly lived earlier, first with a family and then in a garage, many of the neighborhood teen-agers recalled him as "fierce and ugly looking." The stocky, muscular man, with a crown of long, tightly-knit braids, created an image of someone who could stand his ground, the teen-agers said.
"He looked scary. Other people feared him," said Michael Thomas, 15. "We seen him bring a lot of girls to the garage back there."
The youth pointed to a cinder block structure behind a house where Williams reportedly lived for several months.
A couple who had lived in the home with their children took Williams in, some of the teens said.
"He was friends with the couple's children, and they felt sorry for him and let him live there," Michael Hicks, 14, interjected. "But the father didn't want him no more and threw him out."
Michael Thomas, reclaiming the narrative on Williams' life, said: "He'd smoke marijuana and get into lots of fights. But he'd protect us from other older kids."
Thomas also said he saw Williams "giving candy to the girls at P.S. 21, the elementary school on the next block over, and the classes only go up to fifth grade."
Antonio Thomas, no relation to Michael, recalled once intruding on Williams when Williams was having sex with a girl in the garage.
"I lifted up the garage door and saw him. He had a couch and candles in there and was with a girl. I said 'I come for my bike' and he said 'Come for it,' "
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is investigating an allegation that Williams "may have had sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl," spokesman Steven Reed said.
Eventually the owner of the garage evicted Williams, and he began living on the street, according to Kirk Williams, 14.
"He was with other crackheads bumming it on Ely Street and over on Boston and Baychester."
Nushawn Williams grew up in Brooklyn. At the six-story apartment building on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, where he lived until about age 15, Sharon Huggins remembered him Tuesday as a neglected youth who was forced to scrounge for meals.
The boy neighbors knew as JoJo was a "troubled kid," said an unemployed construction worker who would not give his name. "He hustled. He sold controlled substances."
Two residents remembered Williams surviving a shooting in a housing project in 1996.
Collin Lawrence, owner of Force Records, said he tried to help the troubled youth.
"I've known him since he was a little boy," Lawrence said. "I used to help him out and give him money on Friday nights."
Lawrence said Williams repaid his generosity in 1993 by robbing his store and shooting him in the hand, although he said he never pressed charges.
A year later Williams beat a murder charge. Authorities said he followed a friend who used a hunting knife to kill a man over an insult to a woman. The friend was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, but Williams was acquitted.
Williams was arrested Sept. 22 in the Bronx on charges of selling crack to an undercover agent. He faces sentencing Monday, Reed said.
News wire services contributed to this report.