NEW YORK -- When Victor Lopez, a shy, introverted, 18-year-old Bronx man, heard that his mother, Maria, was mugged and molested on her way to work Saturday morning, he ran, his family says, barefoot and shirtless out of their apartment building to help.
In a nearby park, he found the man his mother identified as her mugger. The two men struggled, and Mr. Lopez stabbed him to death, police said. Now he has been charged with manslaughter, and Ms. Lopez, 37, a mother of nine who struggled to get off welfare two years ago, says she has lost her battle to keep her children away from trouble in their drug-plagued neighborhood in the Mott Haven section.
In the soft pink light of her apartment decorated with sports trophies and pictures of her children, Ms. Lopez groped yesterday with the guilt of having screamed to her son for help. ZTC She said he had only acted in self-defense and out of love for her.
Another son, Raymond, 21, who witnessed the stabbing, said his brother was wrought by emotion and anger when he confronted the man. But he said that his brother did not mean to kill the man and that he swung his knife only when he saw the man reach under his belt.
For a day after her assault, Ms. Lopez, nervous and uncertain about what to do, reported only the mugging to police. Then on Saturday night, a friend told her that three teen-agers were being charged with the stabbing.
On Sunday morning she brought her son to the 40th Precinct, where he gave a videotaped statement, she said.
"We were nervous; we didn't know what to do," Ms. Lopez said. "We didn't want to see innocent people going to jail."
Mr. Lopez was arraigned yesterday in Bronx Criminal Court and bail was set at $2,500 cash or $5,000 bond, Steven Reed, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said.
He was charged with manslaughter because there "was no evidence that points to the defendant having intended to cause death," Mr. Reed said.
Investigators said Mr. Lopez had searched for the alleged assailant -- Lazara O'Farrill, 25 -- before spotting him in St. Mary's Park, a half-block from the Lopez home.
After wrestling with him, Mr. Lopez stabbed the man in the right arm, right chest and right leg, said Sgt. Peter Sweeney, a police spokesman.
Mr. O'Farrill then tried to run away but stumbled, and Mr. Lopez kicked him once before running away himself, Sergeant Sweeney said. Mr. O'Farrill died at 1:20 p.m. at Lincoln Hospital.
Ms. Lopez was seeking signatures yesterday for a petition in support of her son.
"Here in New York, if you defend yourself you're in trouble," Ms. Lopez said. "If you don't, you're still in trouble. Now my son is in jail, and I won't forgive myself for it."