Miami Herald

Apparent murder discovered after Little Haiti blaze
BY SUSANNAH A. NESMITH
snesmith@herald.com

Miami police are investigating an apparent murder discovered after firefighters put out an early morning blaze in a Little Haiti apartment Tuesday.

Officials discovered a badly burned body in an efficiency apartment at 355 NE 80th Terr.

''I thought somebody threw a hand grenade,'' said neighbor Shonna Mohammed. ``I heard two booms. I didn't wait around for the third one. I got my babies and got out.''

The fire came four days after the body of another man was found in the trunk of a car a few blocks away, also badly burned from a fire set in the car in the early hours of the morning.

On Tuesday, police released the name of the man, Benjamin Valsin, 24, of 7841 Dunham Blvd., which is in the same neighborhood as both fires.

Tuesday's fire was suspicious because its ''point of origin'' was nowhere near the gas appliances in the tiny apartment, police said.

Mohammed lives at the other end of the building and said she didn't know who lived in the unit that burned. Other closer neighbors said two young men lived there.

''Two kids live there, cousins or maybe brothers, no more than 25 years old'' said T.V. Jean Jaunot. ``I think they're Haitian because I've heard them play Haitian music.''

Police wouldn't say much about the case -- the body was too badly burned to determine its sex or race.

A man who owns a nearby business said he had recently spoken to a man who lived in the unit that burned, a clean-cut young man who kept a clean apartment. ''I offered him an apartment for rent that I have here,'' he said. ``He looked like he minded his own business. His door was open and the place was pretty neat. He just moved in there recently.''

But the man asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation from his neighbors.

''It's pretty rough,'' he said. ``There's a lot of drug dealing over there.''

Anyone with information about either homicide should call Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS or Miami police homicide at 305-579-6530.