First report - July 14, 2008
Man injured in Shenandoah fight dies (Republican Herald)
Shenandoah police are conducting interviews this afternoon in an effort to uncover the details of a brawl Saturday night in the borough that left one man dead from his injuries.
Luis Ramirez, 25, of Shenandoah, died Monday morning at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, of injuries he sustained Saturday night in a fight near Vine and Lloyd streets, a hospital representative confirmed Monday afternoon.
Police have not yet filed charges against anyone for the fight.
More details, and beginning signs of a cover-up - July 15, 2008
SHENANDOAH — A 25-year-old father of three with roots in Mexico died Monday morning from injuries he suffered in an altercation near Vine Street Park on Saturday night, an incident some say was racially motivated.
Luis Ramirez of 15 N. Main St., in the United States illegally, died at 6:30 a.m. at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, where he was taken for treatment after suffering severe head injuries near Vine and Lloyd streets, Shenandoah police Lt. William Moyer said.Eileen Burke, a retired Philadelphia police officer who lives near the scene, said about the time of the beating she heard someone shouting “You tell all your Mexican friends to get out of town.”
“We saw a bunch of kids walking away and screaming things like ... ‘Go back to Mexico.’ We called the police,” said Arielle Garcia, 17, a friend of Ramirez who was at the scene.
Police said they are not commenting on the assailants’ motivation until interviews are complete.
Six Shenandoah juveniles, five of whom are Shenandoah Valley High School students, were being interviewed, along with neighbors in the area and friends of the victim, according to Moyer.
“We talked to a lot of people (Sunday) and we’re doing more interviews now,” he said Monday afternoon.
When the autopsy results are obtained, Moyer said police will discuss the case with Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman to determine what, if any, charges will be filed against those involved.
Moyer said an autopsy will be conducted today at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Allentown, to determine the cause and manner of Ramirez’s death. Moyer said until then, the incident is being treated as an assault, but it could be upgraded to a homicide or manslaughter.
Garcia said she and her husband, Victor Garcia-Cruz, 21, dropped Ramirez off near Vine Street Park just before the incident.
“He was with us all day,” Garcia said. “He told us to drop him off there and he would walk the rest of the way home. He didn’t want us to waste gas.”
Garcia said the two were on their way home when Ramirez called her on his cell phone.“He told us to come back that a group of kids were yelling things at him and following him,” Garcia said.
Burke said she heard screaming about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
“With the park across the street, I hear screaming all the time, but I turned down the air conditioning so I could hear what was going on and I could see kids going back and forth and a girl was screaming ‘Please stop hitting him,’ ” Burke said. “I called 911 to get an ambulance. There seemed to be too many kids around and I thought I’d better be safe than sorry. When I got out the front door, there was one kid running down the pavement. I heard a thud and the kid ran past again.”
Garcia said when she arrived at the scene, a boy and Ramirez were fighting.“They were close together like they were wrestling,” Garcia said. “They started pounding him by my truck. The next thing I knew, Caballo (Ramirez’s nickname) was on the ground. Someone stepped on his chest, we went down on the ground to him and just I saw a foot kick him in the head.”
Ramirez’s fiance, Crystal Dillman, 24, said Ramirez was wearing a medallion on his chest and when the person stepped on his chest, the medallion pressed into his flesh.
“You could see the imprint of the medallion in his chest at the hospital,” she said.
Dillman said she believes the beating was racially motivated.
“I know they did this because they don’t like the color of his skin,” Dillman said. “Now his children are going to grow up angry, knowing their father was killed because of his race, or nationality, or color, or whatever it was that bothered these people about him.”
“He was a good guy, a terrific father,” Dillman said. “Everyone who knew him loved him.”
Ramirez and Dillman have three children, Anjelina, 3, Kiara, 2, and Eduardo, 11 months.
Dillman said Ramirez worked to provide for his family.“He worked two jobs to give his children the life he never had,” she said.
She said Ramirez had been in the country for six years.
“It’s heartbreaking and sad,” Moyer said. “It’s a tragedy.”
Mary Gualtier, who lives on Penn Street near the scene, said she woke up to see one or two of the suspects getting into a car.
“I don’t know why no one stopped it,” she said.
Michael Burke, who has lived near the park for about 20 years, said illegal activities are becoming more common.
“It is horrible in this town anymore,” he said. “I know the cops are doing the best they can, but there is so much going on they can’t keep control of it.”
Debra Navarrete said she believes violence is on the rise again in Shenandoah.
“I was raised in the ’70s when things like fighting and trouble happened all the time. I thought that reputation has died out,” she said.
Borough Councilman Leo Pietkiewicz said the incident affects many people.
“One life is lost and other lives are ruined,” he said.
The last homicide in Shenandoah was June 20, 2004, on White Street. Police charged Kelly Hernandez with killing her husband, Jose Hernandez, 27, by stabbing him in the chest while their three children slept upstairs.
Still no arrests, the DA takes over the case - July 25, 2008
DA, state police will investigate Shenandoah beating death (Standard Speaker)
The homicide investigation into the beating death of a Shenandoah man will be conducted by the district attorney’s office and Pennsylvania State Police, Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman said Tuesday.
“The sooner they get involved, the better it is,” Shenandoah Mayor Thomas F. O’Neill Jr. said, hoping racial tensions in Shenandoah will diffuse when charges are filed.
No charges have yet been filed in relation to the death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, of 15 N. Main St., who died the morning of July 14 from injuries he suffered in an altercation near the Vine Street Park on July 12. Juveniles have been interviewed in relation to the case, including Shenandoah Valley High School football players.
At a Shenandoah Borough Council meeting Monday night, resident Jahaad Baker, 24, said there is racial tension in the town, and asked why no charges had been pressed.
“I’m sure there’s some uneasiness, people want something to be done,” Goodman said Tuesday. “I just assure the public that it’s being fully investigated and the appropriate charges will be filed.”
Goodman said interviews had been conducted “all around the clock” on Monday and Tuesday, but he could not comment more until the investigation had been completed.
O’Neill said he believes the sooner charges are filed the better it would be to ease tension in the community, but urged residents to remember the circumstances of the case make it difficult.
“The public perception, as far as certain individuals being concerned, they feel that as far as nothing is being said and nothing being done is there’s a cover-up, and that’s not the case,” O’Neill said. “The juveniles and their families must be protected until everything is resolved.”
O’Neill said that unfounded concerns about racial tension have been hurtful to the community. Rumors of a retaliation attack during two festivals last weekend meant Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s 94th bazaar, for which O’Neill is treasurer, had the lowest attendance it’s ever had, O’Neill said.
“It’s just that perception is out there, and perception becomes reality,” O’Neill said of the effect of town gossip. O’Neill said friends of his grandchildren were supposed to help with the festival, but their parents were afraid something would happen and would not allow them to go out.
There were no reports of violence at the festival.
O’Neill said he hopes these kinds of anxieties will disappear when charges are filed.
Although O’Neill said he does not believe the crime was racially motivated, he did say he would like to see the Hispanic community become more involved with the town instead of remaining insulated, particularly in this difficult time.
For example, O’Neill said he’s spoken to the town chamber of commerce and Downtown Shenandoah Inc. about getting Hispanic business owners more involved.
O’Neill said he would like to see more people in Shenandoah look at the town’s diversity in a positive light, rather than an inflammatory one.
“I got a nasty phone call left on my answering machine: ‘Shenandoah, they’re a bunch of bigots.’ We’re the only community I’m aware of that has a Heritage Day,” O’Neill said. “That’s hurtful.”
Suspects arrested - Today, July 25, 2008
3 Pa. teens charged in fatal attack on immigrant (The Evening Sun)
PORT CARBON, Pa.—Three white teens were charged Friday in what officials said was an epithet-filled fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant in a small Northeastern Pennsylvania coal town.
Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, and Colin J. Walsh, 17, were charged as adults with homicide and ethnic intimidation in the death of Luis Ramirez. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.
Additional charges are expected in the case that has roiled Shenandoah, the small, economically depressed town where the attack occurred and police have reported friction between whites and a growing Hispanic population.
"As a result of this crime, a young man has lost his life, many other lives have been devastated, and the borough of Shenandoah has been filled with tensions between many ethnic groups," Schuylkill County District Attorney James Goodman said.
Ramirez, 25, who was in the country illegally, was beaten July 12 during a confrontation with a group of youths in a park. Authorities said the suspects used ethnic slurs during the fight, but declined to say whether Ramirez's ethnicity was the motive.
The suspects, all Shenandoah residents, played football at Shenandoah Valley High School; Donchak, now enrolled at Bloomsburg University, was the quarterback last season. He declined comment after the arraignment, but lawyers for Piekarsky and Walsh said there was no evidence to support the homicide charges.
According to a police affidavit, the defendants and three 17-year-olds were drinking alcohol in a wooded area of Shenandoah, then went to a block party sponsored by the borough's Polish American Fire Co. After leaving the party around 11 p.m., the group walked toward a park, where they encountered Ramirez and a teenage girl.
The youths goaded Ramirez and the girl, saying, "You should get out of this neighborhood" and "Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here," documents said.
After Ramirez and the girl began walking away, someone yelled an ethnic slur at him, court documents said. He responded, "What's your problem?"
A fight ensued, during which police said Walsh punched Ramirez in the face. The victim fell and hit his head on the street, leaving him unconscious, after which Piekarsky kicked him in the head, police said.
The suspects fled the scene; Ramirez underwent surgery but died about 30 hours later.
Crystal Dillman, the victim's 24-year-old fiancee, who is white and grew up in Shenandoah, said Friday that Ramirez was walking her sister to a friend's house that night.
"He was just trying to be a good person, making sure she got (there) safe," said Dillman, adding she was relieved the charges include ethnic intimidation.
She says Ramirez was often called derogatory names, including "dirty Mexican," and told to return to his homeland. Similar insults have been hurled at their children, ages 2 and 11 months, she said.
"I plan on moving out of this town as fast as I can. Not because I'm scared. I just don't want to see my children have to deal with what their father dealt with," Dillman said.
Following the arraignment, lawyers for Piekarsky and Walsh said their clients are not guilty and that they would try to have the case removed to juvenile court.
Roger Laguna, Walsh's lawyer, said the police affidavit "pretty much describes chaos, and what you have then after the fact is somebody trying to sort through that and attribute certain acts to certain individuals."
He said that although slurs might have been used, the fight was not motivated by ethnicity.
"I think any time there's a fight and any time you have one ethnic group fighting another, there's going to be racial slurs," he said. "I've seen that since I was a kid on a playground 20 years ago, but they never called it ethnic intimidation until very recently."
Frederick Fanelli, Piekarsky's lawyer, said he is "surprised and disappointed" that his client faces a homicide charge, attributing Ramirez's death to a "street fight that ended tragically."
Goodman said a fourth teen will be charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation and that charges also will be filed against a man who provided alcohol to the defendants hours before the attack.
Piekarsky and Walsh were detained without bail. Donchak was held in lieu of $75,000 bond.