A Nicaraguan diplomat was found dead Thursday, his stomach stabbed and his throat slashed, in his blood-spattered apartment, hours before he was to attend the U.N. General Assembly's annual meeting, officials said.
Cesar Mercado, who had worked at the Nicaraguan consulate as acting consul general, was found at 10:35 a.m. in his apartment in the Bronx by the driver who went to pick him up to attend the meeting, police said. He was last seen alive the day before.
Police said the driver knocked on the door, which was unlocked, opened it, saw Mercado's body lying just inside the studio and called 911.
It was initially thought one knife was used in the attack and was found near the body, but investigators later determined there were two knives involved, a 12-inch steak knife found at the side of a blood-filled bathroom sink and a smaller paring knife found in the sink.
Police were investigating, but no suspects were immediately identified. Investigators were looking into Mercado's recent contacts, his relationships and where he had been during the days leading up to the slaying. A motive remained unclear.
"He had no enemies. He was loved by everyone who knew him," a friend, Amparo Amador, said in Spanish. "When I first heard of his death, I thought he must've died from natural causes because there would be no way he could be killed."
Mercado, 34, came to the U.S. in 2001 to work as an assistant in the office of Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations, the friend said. He was single, and his family was in Nicaragua.
He eventually took on the duties of consul general, working with passports and immigration visas.
Amador said he was like a son to her. Recently, she'd urged him to go to the doctor because he looked thin, and he was diagnosed with diabetes. The two danced at a wedding of another friend in Brooklyn last week, she said.
"He was the perfect guy. The best person, just wonderful," she said. "I feel as if one of my children has died."
Leaders from 192 nations were in town for the General Assembly, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who is a fierce critic of the United States and a defender of North Korea and Iran. President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly on Thursday.
Nicaraguan Vice President Jaime Morales said U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan assured him that the FBI would do everything possible to investigate.
The assistant to the ambassador said the Nicaraguan mission in New York couldn't immediately release any information.
Mercado lived on the top floor of a six-story apartment building in a working-class section of the Bronx. Police barred reporters from entering the building Thursday. Residents said they didn't hear anything out of the ordinary Wednesday night, but some said it's often noisy in the building at night.
A crowd gathered outside the building Thursday. Police had cordoned off the entrance, though some neighbors peered out from their apartment windows down at the scrum of reporters below. An SUV with consul plates and a Nicaraguan flag dangling from the rearview mirror was parked down the street.
Sharon Fonseca, who's from Nicaragua and lives nearby, said she went to see what was going on after a friend told her about Mercado's death. She said she had met him at the consulate in Manhattan, where he helped her get a passport.
"He was a nice person," she said. "He took care of me personally."
Mexican Consul Ruben Beltran, a leader of the Association of Latin American Consuls, said the organization will ask authorities for a prompt investigation.
"The Latin American community in New York has lost an active consul, who will be missed by his friends, colleagues and countrymen," the association said in a statement.
Beltran said he remembered Mercado's solidarity.
"There is concern among the community of Latin American consuls," he said. "He was an active colleague; he always came to the important events. He was a generous, friendly, straightforward person, a good colleague."