Town Still Torn Over Immigrant Murder

In the town of Shenandoah, Penn., parishioners at a local church offered up prayers for peace - a peace that was broken the night of July 12, when Luis Ramirez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was beaten to death

The crime shocked people in this small, Appalachian town, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane. A late night street fight punctuated by ethnic slurs ended in Ramirez's death. Four high school students, all on the football team, are charged in connection with the homicide.

"I never thought there was such underlying hatred or bigotry," the town mayor said.

A group of girls that spoke to CBS News said they were shocked at the accused, "because they are nice boys."

"That's what I really don't understand," said one girl. "When I heard about it I was really surprised. I couldn't believe it was them."

Sixteen-year-old Brandon Piekarski and 17-year-old Colin Walsh were both charged with homicide. The football team's quarterback, 18-year-old Derrick Donchak, faces aggravated assault charges. The fourth teen's case is in juvenile court.

All of them, though, are charged with ethnic intimidation.

About a month after Ramirez's murder, some people aren't allowed to talk and others are still too frightened to. So trying to get a clear picture of what's really happening in Shenandoah isn't easy. And the answer changes, depending on whom you ask.

At a farmer's market, one woman emphatically denied noticing tension below the town's surface.

But Crystal Dillman, Ramirez's fiancé and mother of his three children, says she sees racism firsthand.

"It's pretty sad when you see the true sides of half of these people around here," she said. "It's not good when you go out and you have your small children and they're saying, 'Take your dirty Mexicans home and give them a bath.' "

Shenandoah has always been a magnet for migrants. Work in coal mines fueled a boom. But when the mines closed, people left and the population dropped to just over 5,500 today.

What has grown is the county's Hispanic population - up 65 percent since 2000 as a new wave of immigrants have come in search of jobs. Like "Cesar," who works in construction and said he knew Ramirez.

"After this happened I'm frightened to go out," he said through a translator. "You do go out, but not without watching your back."

White kids told CBS News they were scared and angry too - but from a different perspective.

"If that happened to a white person, every church in this god***n f***ing town wouldn't do a god***n thing about it," said one kid while pounding his fist to cheers from a surrounding group. "Just because they're f***ing border-jumpers and came over here."

"I can't say it without sounding racist," said another teenager. "I can't say, you know, the Mexicans came here and now there's problems."

"But is that how you feel?" asked Doane.

"Yeah … Obviously I've been here my whole life and I've never had a problem. Now there's problems," he responded.

The economic struggle here only aggravates any racial one. But even residents who just believe it was just a "terrible accident" say that's no excuse.

"It can't go unpunished," said the woman from the farmer's market. "Because it'll set a precedent that they can do that to the Mexican people."

While the community waits for justice, it holds a second vigil for Luis Ramirez, hoping for a future free of strife.
  • Seth Doane

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