A Town's "Terrible Mistake"

Seth Doane is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.
I was assigned to go to Shenandoah, Penn., about a month after the beating, and subsequent death, of Luis Ramirez. Ramirez was an illegal immigrant. His death sent shockwaves through the community and the media descended on this small town to try to figure out why this happened and question whether it could happen again. (I had a number of meals at the local Mexican restaurant – where the waitress told me that I was hardly the only reporter to make a stop there.)

Most of the folks we spoke with believed Ramirez's death was a "terrible mistake." Many called it a "fight … gone badly," and said his death was an accident. One townsperson blamed it on "the drink." The boys implicated had, reportedly, been drinking before the fight.

A number of teenagers in town vouched that those charged with the crime (four boys from the local high school – all on the football team) were "good boys" and said they were "surprised" that this incident had happened.

On the grass in front of his home, I sat down to chat with Anthony Welkonich, a sun-burned, athletic teenager that went to school with all of the boys charged and is a distant relative of one. Welkonich said that the football players charged were "like idols to everybody… [and that] they got along with everybody."

It's clear that the town is shocked. It's clear that people are embarrassed, sadden, and frustrated by being portrayed as a "racist" town (those charged were charged with, among other things, "ethnic intimidation"). It's also quite clear that there is a fatigue in discussing this issue.

But, a month after the beating, we decided to take another look – to go back to this town and try to figure out why this happened and what we could learn from it.

My overall take-away from the story is that there is nothing unique to Shenandoah, Penn. This could have been anywhere in America – because the struggling economy in Shenandoah may play as big a role as anything else.

You can read my full Evening News story here, or watch the video below.