BY LESLIE RICHARDSON
STAFF WRITER [email protected]
Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 8:42 AM EDT
SHENANDOAH — Luis Ramirez’s death was ruled a homicide Tuesday by Montour County Coroner Scott Lynn, who conducted an autopsy earlier that afternoon.
Ramirez, 25, of Shenandoah, died of blunt force head trauma, Lynn said, but officials and members of the Hispanic community are still unsure what prompted a group of juveniles to allegedly attack Ramirez on Saturday.
Officials were still interviewing suspects Tuesday and no charges had been filed.
“I don’t believe it was a racial or hate crime,” borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky said Tuesday. “It was unfortunate the individual lost his life and the rest of the individuals’ lives will be affected for the rest of their lives. It is incomprehensible that things like this could happen. This is a small town and things like this aren’t supposed to happen."
Ramirez, 15 N. Main St., died at 6:30 a.m. Monday at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, where he was taken for treatment after suffering severe head injuries in the altercation near Vine Street Park on Saturday night, Shenandoah police Lt. William Moyer said. One witness who lives near the scene of the crime said she heard someone yelling, “You tell all your Mexican friends to get out of town.”
Micky Singh, head of the Diversity Council of Schuylkill County, was unaware of the incident until Tuesday morning.
“As of now I am just speechless. This is the first time anything like this has happened since I have been involved in the council.”
After a meeting later Tuesday afternoon, Singh said the Diversity Council decided to watch the situation closely before taking a stance on the matter.
“All we know so far is speculation and before jumping the gun, we want to know all the facts,” Singh said. “If you jump the gun before knowing the whole story, you could create more division.”
Flor Gomez said a number of Hispanic families have moved to Shenandoah from larger cities because they feel it is a safe community, one in which they would like to raise their children.
“Personally, I feel safe. I don’t want to say it was racial. I am hoping it is not racial,” Gomez said. “Things happen everywhere where little kids call each other names. It goes with being a kid. You just hope it doesn’t go any further than that.”
Gomez said there is diversity in Shenandoah, not only between Hispanics and non-Hispanics but in the Hispanic culture itself.
“There are different races within the Hispanic culture just like the American culture. There could be people of three or four descents considered Hispanic all living in Shenandoah and not everyone gets along. But that is just people in general. Not everyone gets along.”
Gomez was not aware of any plans being made by the Hispanic community to address the event.
“We are all hoping this was just one incident,” she said.
Ramirez was a father of three who was in the U.S. illegally and had ties to Mexico. Palubinsky said there is no way of knowing how many illegal immigrants reside in the borough, but doesn’t believe the fact that Ramirez was an illegal immigrant made any difference to the people who beat him.
“We are dealing with rumors and assumptions. We don’t know what actually happened until the police complete the investigation,” Palubinsky said.
Mayor Joseph O’Neill Jr. also believed the beating was an isolated incident.
“I don’t believe it was any major thing against Hispanics,” O’Neill said Tuesday. “I don’t believe it was gang activity and I hope it was an accident. I don’t believe any group of young people could do this intentionally.”
O’Neill also said he believes the police department handled the situation professionally.
“I believe they are doing the best the can and they have asked for assistance with this which I think is a good thing,” O’Neill said. “They are conducting interviews and will re-interview when those interviews are completed. At this point they are trying to get the correct information.”
O’Neill said he has lived in the borough 47 years and does not believe it is unsafe.
“We have the same problems they have in every town,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think the problems are isolated to Shenandoah.”
O’Neill said there is a greater population of Hispanics in the borough than a few years ago and there may be a greater number than in other towns, but he doesn’t believe there is a great conflict between ethnic groups.
Moyer, the investigating officer, said in the 11 years he has been on the police force, he has never witnessed what he would consider a hate crime.
“I have heard people refer to different ethnic groups by name from time to time,” Moyer said. “All ethnic groups, not just Mexicans or other Hispanics. (his son might just well be one of the kids involed)." Moyer said he does not think the incident Saturday is tied to race or that either group would consider retaliation.
“I think this was an unfortunate incident and I don’t think people have to be afraid or worry it will happen again,” he said.