Man found dead in house fire was strangled

- A man was found dead inside a Madison Heights home after a fire early Saturday morning.

Investigators now say the man who lived there, Fernando Gonzalez, didn't die in the fire as first thought, he was strangled.

"Fern was the type of person who would walk into a room and make a whole room smile," said Brandon Locklear.

Locklear left work early to set up a makeshift memorial for a man who was more like a brother.

He has known as Gonzales, 59, since he was 12 and is heart-broken.

"There's disbelief that he is gone," Locklear said. "It's been very tough, pretty tough."

A neighbor shot cell phone video of the fire at Gonzales' home on Groveland in Madison Heights early Sunday morning.

At first it appeared Gonzales had died from the actual fire but further investigation  revealed it had been set to cover up the crime and that he had been strangled.

Gonzales' 2005 Acura was stolen but later found a short distance away. It is now at the crime lab being analyzed.

"The victim led an alternative lifestyle," said Deputy Chief Corey Haines, Madison Heights police. "So we are looking into whether this was a hate crime we are keeping all leads open."

Gonzales ran a hair salon out of his home and he was also known for making medical mission trips to the Philippines.

"He was a good friend of the family for a lot of years," said friend Johnny Cordle.

Gonzalez didn't have any children but he did have Jojo the Jack Russell terror that somehow escaped the fast moving flames.

Locklear will now care for him - a reminder of a friend taken too soon, but also of the good memories made along the way.

Police could use the public's help. If you heard or saw something suspicious or know of anyone Gonzales may have had issues with, you are asked to call Madison Heights police at (248) 585-2100.

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