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By Thomas F. O'Neill

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A Time For Change And A Time For Healing

I have written stories and articles in the past about my hometown of Shenandoah , PA. Those stories and articles were mostly positive and upbeat. But I am at a loss for words over the events in Shenandoah , PA over the last few weeks.

I will let excerpts’ from our local Newspaper – Republican & Herald - tell the story of this very tragic event that has gotten national attention from various news agencies.

An excerpt from the July 26th Republican & Herald Newspaper states:

“Anthony C. Carroll, (Schuylkill County Chief Detective) said, that on July 12, Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, of 104 Schuylkill Ave, Derrick M. Donchak, 18, of 807 W. Coal St., Shenandoah and a 17-year-old, who are white, were at Donchak’s home and, at some point, Donchak went to Frackville and picked up a 22-year-old man who allegedly purchased alcohol for the minors in Shenandoah.

Donchak then took the alcohol to his home, but the group — and the drinking — then moved to a wooded area off Washington Street known as the “creek.”

Donchak, Piekarsky and the juvenile were at the wooded area from 7 to 9 p.m. and at some point were joined by, Colin J. Walsh, 17, of 309 Virginia Ave. When it became dark, Carroll said the four left the area, but later met at the Polish American Fire Company block party, where Piekarsky became involved in a verbal argument.

Between 11 and 11:15 p.m., Carroll said, Ramirez and a 15-year-old girl were traveling in a vehicle driven by Arielle Garcia and her husband, Victor Garcia Cruz. At their request, Ramirez and the girl were dropped off at Vine Street Park , Vine and Lloyd streets.

The girl walked to her home on Lloyd Street , spoke to her mother and then began walking back to Vine Street when the six teenagers who left the block party were also walking toward the park.

Carroll said the girl was walking on one side of the street while the teenagers were on the opposite side. Carroll said when the girl met Ramirez, who walked from the park to meet her, one of the teenagers began making comments toward her and Ramirez, saying “Isn’t it a little late for you guys to be out,” “You should get out of this neighborhood” and “Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here.”

Carroll said Ramirez and the girl began walking away from the group and Ramirez called someone on his cell phone.

While he was on the phone, Carroll said one of the teenagers called Ramirez an ethnic slur, to which Ramirez asked back, “What is your problem?”

Piekarsky, Walsh and the 17-year-old juvenile, who is facing charges, ran toward Ramirez and the physical altercation broke out, Carroll said. Donchak also ran toward the fight and engaged with Ramirez.

During the assault, Carroll said Ramirez fell to the ground where he was repeatedly kicked and punched, but at some point was able to get back on his feet.

Carroll said the fight moved west on Lloyd Street , where the Garcias arrived to help. Ramirez called the couple on his cell phone and said someone was trying to beat him up and also using ethnic slurs.

Victor Garcia tried to break up the fight but someone hit him from behind, Carroll said. It was then, the detective said, that Walsh hit Ramirez in the face with a closed fist, forcing him to fall backward and hit his head on the macadam roadway.

As Ramirez was lying unconscious, Piekarsky kicked him in the left side of the head, then the assailants fled the scene, Carroll said.

Ramirez was treated at the scene by Shenandoah EMS and taken to Saint Catherine Medical Center Fountain Springs before being flown to Geisinger by helicopter. Carroll said Ramirez underwent surgery, but his condition became worse and he died at 6:38 a.m. July 14.

An autopsy conducted at Lehigh Valley Hospital , Allentown , by Dr. Barbara Bollinger determined Ramirez died of blunt force head trauma that resulted in two skull fractures. She listed the manner of death as homicide.

On July 13, the day after the assault, Carroll said all the teenagers involved met to plan how they could “limit or conceal their involvement” in Ramirez’ death.

(Please note: The Mayor of my hometown of Shenandoah , PA is my father.)

Shenandoah mayor: Justice on the way


Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 7:20 AM EDT

SHENANDOAH — Mayor Thomas F. O’Neill Jr. reassured the public during Monday night’s borough council meeting that the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez is being investigated and those involved will be charged.

The comment came after resident Jahaad Baker, 24, asked the council what was being done about the circumstances surrounding the July 12 beating, which resulted in the July 14 death of Ramirez, also known as Luis Zavala.

“The community as a whole is concerned about the tragic death of Luis Ramirez and why no one has been charged,” said Baker, himself convicted of manslaughter two years ago. “I have sisters and a mother, my family is afraid. There is a lot of racial tension here. We are scared to let my little brother go outside while four or five people who did this walk free.”

O’Neill explained that the investigation is continuing.

“We are all aware a terrible tragedy occurred,” he said. “There are certain circumstances. There was a Hispanic victim involved and that incinerates the issue. There were juveniles involved and that provides other circumstances. The law dictates that we cannot divulge names of juveniles. I know it is human nature to think this is a cover-up because nothing is being said.”

O’Neill said interviews were scheduled Monday by the district attorney’s office.

“The sooner there is an arrest made, the better for the entire community,” O’Neill said. “The district attorney will determine who is going to be charged and what charges will be filed. They are going to be very careful that this is being done correctly and to make sure the right people are charged.”

Baker, convicted in Schuylkill County Court of involuntary manslaughter in an unrelated case involving the 2005 death of Schuylkill Haven resident Brian Maltais, believes the charges in the Ramirez case have yet to be filed because the victim was Hispanic.

Baker’s sentence included 10 to 23 months in prison.

“If that was a Latino or an African-American person who did that to a Caucasian, would they be standing?” Baker asked O’Neill.

“The law is blind, if they are guilty of an offense, charges will be filed,” O’Neill said.

Baker then said there were several incidents in the borough where he believes nothing was done because the victim was Hispanic.

“Statements like that, and I don’t know all the details, are unfounded,” O’Neill said. “It is not just the Hispanic community but the white community as well. We have to be careful in what we say. Everybody has to be careful what they say. If other people in the community believe these statements it causes problems.”

Resident Cynthia Riddick said she believes the entire community wants to feel safe.

“The entire community is under the same government and everyone knows who did this — if the police aren’t doing anything about it, it will escalate. Violence only incurs violence,” she said.

Borough Council President Andrew Szczyglak said the borough police are providing extra patrols and the state police and members of the county sheriff’s department who provided help over the weekend with the two festivals going on will continue to help patrol as well.

“There are enough police officers patrolling the streets. I would not be alarmed,” he said.

O’Neill thanked the two outside departments for their help.

Szczyglak also said the curfew is being strictly enforced and citations are being issued.

Anyone under 18 must not be on the public streets after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Citations for loitering are also being given.

Councilman John Szczyglak told the public to report to police any individuals or groups violating the borough ordinances.

“We didn’t believe there would be retaliation but we had to take steps in case,” O’Neill said. “The district attorney’s office is also doing an excellent job to make sure the appropriate charges will be brought against the right people.”

In other business, Henry Jachimczyk, Shenandoah, a recent McCann School of Business graduate, thanked members of the council, the mayor, the police department and borough office staff for the experiences he had doing his externship with the borough.

Also, the contract in the amount of $38,475 for the 2008 Street Paving Program was awarded to Hazleton Site Contractors after the bid and contract were reviewed and approved by the borough engineer.

The borough is also working with the county to get funds to take down adjoining properties at 315 W. Coal St .

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund tells feds to probe Shenandoah killing


Published: Friday, July 25, 2008 8:13 AM EDT

SHENANDOAH — After almost two weeks with no charges filed in the beating death of an illegal immigrant, a national Mexican-American organization has requested that the federal Department of Justice investigate the homicide.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sent a letter dated July 21 to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting that the criminal section of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice look into the death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, of 15. N. Main St .

Ramirez died the morning of July 14 from injuries he suffered in an altercation near the Vine Street Park on July 12. Juveniles have been among those interviewed in relation to the case, including Shenandoah Valley High School football players. Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman’s office is investigating the case, with support from Pennsylvania State Police.

In an interview Thursday, Goodman said, “An arrest should occur in the very near future.”

Eileen Burke, a former 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.” Police said they would not comment on the assailants’ motivations until interviews were completed.

The letter to Mukasey states: “Despite multiple witness accounts of ethnic slurs yelled at the victim during the attack, several city officials have attempted to downplay the possibility that the crime was motivated by hatred against Latinos.”

John Amaya, a legislative staff attorney for MALDEF, said in a telephone interview from Washington , D.C. , that the group became aware of the story through local media coverage and made an independent decision to write the letter.

“If the facts are anywhere close to what they appear to be, at a minimum it warrants an investigation on behalf of the Department of Justice,” Amaya said.

Amaya said MALDEF was not asking for specific action by the Department of Justice in the event that the investigation determines that federal hate crime laws were violated. But a sharp increase in hate crimes against Hispanics nationwide, Amaya said, means the possibility must at least be looked into.

“We’ve been trying to actively encourage communities to be aware of this anti-immigrant, anti-Latino climate that’s been festering for the past few years,” Amaya said. “This might be Exhibit A of the results of this venomous attitude that is out there.”

Crystal Dillman, Ramirez’s fianci
e, said Thursday she is increasingly frustrated that charges have been yet to be filed.

“How many times do you have to interview the same person over and over to get an answer?” Dillman said.

Dillman said that even though she understands there are difficulties with the case — the series of follow-up interviews, the involvement of juveniles — she feels arrests should have been made.

“I can understand her frustration. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, when a homicide investigation is being done,” Goodman said. “Artificial timelines can’t be set. The most important thing is that the investigation is done properly until the proper charges can be filed.”

Ramirez’s body arrived in Mexico on Thursday morning, Dillman said, and will be buried in his home country. Dillman said negative comments about Ramirez’s background have been difficult to hear and read on The REPUBLICAN & Herald Web Site.

“Sometimes I have to laugh about it because it’s so ridiculous, and other times I get angry,” Dillman said.

Dillman said she has also gotten supportive calls, visits and letters, but feels negative attention when walking around town.

“People won’t say anything to me, but if I’m walking down the street they’ll give me dirty looks,” Dillman said.

Dillman said Ramirez’s death, and the comments, have been particularly hard on his mother, who lives in Mexico . Dillman said she talks with his mother, who only speaks Spanish, once or twice a day via telephone conference calls with a translator.

“She will never see her son again,” Dillman said. “If she’s seen him, she’s seen a casket.”

Ramirez also left behind two children with Dillman — Kiara, 2, and Eduardo, 11 months — as well as Dillman’s daughter, Anjelina, 3, who thought of him as a father.

“The two oldest are constantly looking for their father. They don’t understand he’s never coming home,” Dillman said.

DA charges teens in deadly beating


Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008 7:22 AM EDT

PORT CARBON — Eleven days after a Shenandoah man died from injuries he suffered in an assault, two teenagers were charged Friday with homicide — exposing them to possible life sentences — and an 18-year-old man was charged with less serious offenses.

Colin J. Walsh, 17, of 309 Virginia Ave., and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, of 104 Schuylkill Ave., both white and from Shen-andoah Heights, were charged in connection with the death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was assaulted July 12 in the area of Vine and Lloyd streets and died two days later at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.

Another person allegedly involved, Derrick M. Donchak, 18, of 807 W. Coal St. , Shen-andoah, was not charged with the most serious offense, criminal homicide.

Walsh and Piekarsky were each charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, simple assault and ethnic intimidation. Piekarsky also was charged with criminal solicitation to hinder apprehension and purchase or consumption of liquor.

Donchak, also white, was arraigned on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, hindering apprehension or prosecution, ethnic intimidation, corruption of minors, purchase or consumption of alcohol and selling or furnishing alcohol to minors.

Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko scheduled preliminary hearings for the three for 10 a.m. Aug. 4 before Magisterial District Judge Anthony J. Kilker, Shenandoah.

If convicted of first-degree murder, the most serious degree of criminal homicide, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole; because they are under 18, they cannot face the death penalty, according to federal law.

Attorneys for both Piekarsky and Walsh said they would try to have their cases moved to juvenile court.

Under state law, the ethnic intimidation charge is based on the “malicious intent” of the defendant toward the alleged victim based on the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, sexual orientation or gender.

If the defendant is convicted of ethnic intimidation, it increases the seriousness of any other crime of which he is convicted. For example, if he is convicted of simple assault and ethnic intimidation, the simple assault, otherwise a second-degree misdemeanor, would become a first-degree misdemeanor, thereby exposing a defendant to the possibility of a more severe sentence.

Plachko told Walsh and Piekarsky that only a county judge can set bail on a criminal homicide charge. He remanded both to Schuylkill County Prison.

Donchak was also remanded to county prison in lieu of posting 10 percent, or $7,500, of $75,000 bail set by Plachko, who called his part in the incident “significantly less” than that of Walsh and Piekarsky. Plachko denied a request by Assistant District Attorney Robert P. Frantz to set bail at $50,000 straight cash.

A prison spokesman said Friday afternoon that Donchak had bail posted for him and he had been released.

District Attorney James P. Goodman said juvenile charges are pending against another 17-year-old allegedly involved in the incident.

“As the 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,” Goodman said Friday in announcing that charges had been filed in connection with Ramirez’s death.

“The Borough of Shenandoah is a proud community, with a rich heritage and many good people from many diverse ethnic backgrounds. This is a time when the community and community leaders must bind together in the face of tension and work to create harmony amongst all citizens, regardless of race,” Goodman said in a press release.

Homicide charges bring relief for fiancee


Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008 4:25 AM EDT

SHENANDOAH — The announcement of charges in the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala has given some relief to his fiancee and others.

Now the implications of the charges filed Friday morning are being watched closely.

“The ethnic intimidation and homicide (charges) were the biggest ones for me, because I didn’t want to see them charged with assault,” Ramirez’s fiancee, Crystal Dillman, said. “I wanted to see them charged with the actual homicide.”

Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, and Colin J. Walsh, 17, both of Shenandoah Heights , face charges including criminal homicide and ethnic intimidation. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, of Shenandoah, faces an ethnic intimidation charge, but not criminal homicide. A fourth person is expected to be charged as a juvenile.

However, Dillman said, she is still dissatisfied with the investigation, as well as a lack of communication from authorities. Dillman said she had not heard the specific charges filed until a list was provided by a REPUBLICAN & Herald reporter at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and had not received a call from either Shenandoah police or the district attorney’s office.

Although Dillman is happy that the individuals are now in jail, she expects “not guilty” pleas and will still be watching closely to see which charges stick.

Dillman had been worried that the teens’ status as, in her words, “pillars of the community” might have caused hesitation to press charges, “especially because some of these kids are football players, and football season is big here.”

“If it wasn’t for all the media coverage, this would have been pushed under the rug the day it happened,” Dillman said.

Mayor Thomas F. O’Neill Jr. said he hopes that concerns over racial tension, as well as improper police conduct, will now dissipate.

“I kept on saying, ‘No, it’s a not a cover-up, allow the justice system to do its job,’ ” O’Neill said. “And I hope people feel now that the justice process is working the way it’s designed to work.”

Although O’Neill said he did not personally know any of the charged individuals, he does know some of their families and said the news has been “difficult.” O’Neill also said that, before the charges were filed Friday, he had not heard that alcohol might have been involved in the incident.

“I have to try to absorb this,” O’Neill said. “I have to try to do what I can to try to do what’s right with the community.”

O’Neill had previously said that festivals in Shenandoah last weekend had seen a marked decrease in attendance that he attributed to fears, which he said were unfounded, that further acts of violence might occur.

Valerie Macdonald, president of the Shenandoah Area Historical Society, declined to comment on the incident or any possible effect it might have on Shenandoah’s upcoming Heritage Day festival Aug. 23.

John Amaya, a legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the organization had seen the charging documents on Friday morning.

“We’re pleased that local authorities have acted on this and obviously have been methodical about it, since it’s been a couple of weeks since the incident,” Amaya said.

MALDEF sent a letter dated July 21 to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting that the criminal section of the civil rights division of the federal Department of Justice look into Ramirez’s death. The filing of charges will not change MALDEF’s plans to conduct its own fact-finding investigation, Amaya said.

A message left with the Schuylkill County Diversity Council on Friday afternoon was not returned.

No Shenandoah council members were available for comment at the borough hall, nor was borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky, who is on vacation until Monday.

Diverse crowd gathers at vigil


Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 2:22 PM EDT

SHENANDOAH — A candlelight vigil Tuesday night for an illegal Mexican immigrant fatally beaten earlier this month was marked by impassioned calls for racial unity and justice.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national Hispanic civil rights organization, held the memorial for Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, who died July 14 from injuries he suffered after being assaulted, allegedly by a group of white teenagers, on July 12.

With an ethnically diverse crowd of about 150 people, the vigil’s public comment period ran more than an hour with calls for racial unity in the small community.

“I want to offer (Hispanics) an official welcome to this town,” resident Lou Ann Pleva said to applause. “You’re the only one!” Jose Perez shouted from the crowd, later saying that he has lived in Shenandoah for seven years and has not felt included by the town’s white residents.

“We’re waiting for that moment,” Perez said.

At a press conference before the vigil, MALDEF staff attorney Gladys Limon said: “MALDEF is gravely concerned about local officials’ initial responses to the homicide of Luis Ramirez, including rushing to the defense of the alleged, the delay in the investigation and charges, and reckless statements that can only encourage hostility toward the immigrant community.”

Limon said MALDEF has asked the FBI and Department of Justice to monitor the investigation, and called on Congress and the next president to fix the “broken, archaic immigration system.”

In an interview at the press conference, John Amaya, a legislative staff attorney for MALDEF, said historically, anti-immigration sentiments have been fueled by economic problems, and that Chinese, Germans, Irish and other races have faced discrimination in the U.S.

“People need something intangible to blame and right now it’s the immigration debate,” Amaya said.

Amaya said he has followed comments to articles on The REPUBLICAN & Herald Web site,, and said some posts claiming no charges should be pressed because Ramirez was in the country illegally are not supported by legal precedent.

“The Supreme Court has in fact said that undocumented residents do have constitutional rights,” Amaya said.

Amaya also said the war on terror has negatively shaped people’s perceptions of other races. Even when he brings up the above economic and historical points to “supposed experts” on C-SPAN, Amaya said, their next response is “I remember 9/11.”

“What about this has anything to do with 9/11?” Amaya said.

Both Amaya said he walked the streets of Shenandoah to speak with citizens and found most felt pain and shame about the incident.

John Garcia, communications strategist for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, came to the same conclusion.

“Overwhelmingly, people were outraged by this, and I talked to mostly non-Latinos,” Garcia said. “The town is against this.”

Garcia said racial violence divides the community.

“There’s people standing on this side and people standing on that side of the street,” Garcia said, pointing to residents lining the sidewalk across from the press conference site.

Amaya said the negative comments come from a “vocal minority” that borough residents should speak out against.

“Shenandoah has an opportunity and a responsibility to push all that venom back,” Amaya said.

Most talk at the vigil focused on how to begin the healing process over the incident and how to promote behavior to avoid further violence.

“We need to start teaching children from birth and make them realize there’s only one race, and that’s the human race,” one resident said, her voice cracking on the last two words as the crowd applauded.

Mayor Thomas F. O’Neill Jr. apologized for comments by borough officials that may have been harmful or misinterpreted. He asked for forgiveness and pledged to work to bring the community together.

Limon also praised O’Neill at the press conference for his, “commitment to work in a meaningful manner ... to educate himself and the community on issues of ethnic diversity, for the betterment of the entire community.”

Ramirez’s fiancee, Crystal Dillman, said if anything good came out of his death, it would be a change toward acceptance of all races.

“This is just the first step,” Limon said at the end of the vigil, urging those attending to continue to not only speak of tolerance at the vigil, but to practice it every day. “It’s up to you now.”

Three teenagers from Shenandoah have been charged in the beating: Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, and Colin J. Walsh, 17, were charged as adults with homicide and ethnic intimidation. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other offenses. All three played football at Shenandoah Valley High School last season.

Charges are pending against another 17-year-old, who authorities say will be charged as a juvenile.

Feds join probe into beating


Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008 4:30 AM EDT

The FBI and a division of the U.S. Department of Justice will be investigating the circumstances surrounding the beating death of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Shen-andoah, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“We have an open investigation into the matter. In addition, we’re working cooperatively with state authorities on the matter and monitoring the state’s prosecutions,” said spokeswoman Ja-mie Hais. The case has been given to the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national Hispanic civil rights organization, had called for federal involvement in the aftermath of the death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, who died July 14 from injuries he suffered after being assaulted, allegedly by a group of white teenagers, on July 12.

“We expect that local authorities will prosecute these alleged criminals to the fullest extent of the law; however, we believe it is necessary for the federal authorities to also take action in order to ensure the integrity of the process,” MALDEF staff attorney Gladys Limon said at a press conference Tuesday in Shenandoah.

MALDEF also sent a letter dated July 2 to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting that the Department of Justice look into the homicide.

Limon said the homicide is not an isolated case, but that “inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric in this country has caused an anti-Latino wave.” Homicide and ethnic intimidation charges were filed Friday against Shenandoah Heights teenagers Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, and Colin J. Walsh, 17, as well as other charges. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, also of Shenandoah heights, faces aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation charges.

While some say the prosecution has moved too slowly, Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman rejected such allegations Wednesday.

“The district attorney’s office completed the investigation that was necessary to file the appropriate charges,” he said. “Every case is different. The most important thing is to ensure the appropriate charges are filed.”

Goodman said on Friday — the day Donchak, Piekarsky and Walsh were arrested and arraigned — that a fourth suspect in the beating would be charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and other offenses. Those charges have not yet been filed, but Goodman said Wednesday that should not surprise anyone.

“We have to see what happens in the other cases,” Goodman said in declining to say either when the juvenile might be charged or why he wasn’t charged at the same time as the others. “We want all the cases to be heard together. We’re not going to file before we know what happens with the other cases.”

Goodman said he does not mind the FBI launching its own investigation of the incident.

“We have a good working relationship with all law enforcement,” he said.

Meanwhile, Commissioners Chairwoman Mantura M. Gallagher said she has not observed racial intolerance in Schuylkill County and does not think one such incident accurately represents the area.

“Because of the national press that this is generating, I’m afraid that it is going to put a black eye on Schuylkill County ,” Gallagher said. “I truly believe that Schuylkill County is a racially and ethnic-tolerant community, and it is my hope that this was nothing more than an isolated incident, as tragic as it was.”

Gallagher said that in her 31 years of teaching, she never experienced problems because of race.

“In my former career as an English and Spanish teacher, I always emphasized that the word should not have been ‘tolerance,’ ” Gallagher said. “I never wanted to teach my students ‘tolerance’ of another culture, but instead ‘appreciation.’ ”

Gallagher’s sentiments are similar to some expressed at a candlelight vigil for Ramirez on Tuesday outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Shenandoah. One woman said the tragedy made her feel the need to teach her children to be “color blind” and that “there’s only one race, and that’s the human race.”

The Shenandoah parishes of Annunciation BVM and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, both part of the Diocese of Allentown, helped cover the expense of shipping Ramirez’s body back to Mexico .

“One of the church’s principal ministries is to the bereaved, and if there was a way that the people of these parishes in Shenandoah could help by coming to the aid of the victim’s family, that’s a good thing,” diocese director of communication Matt Kerr said.

Trish Reilly, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17, said Holden said the matter “is in the hands of the district attorney’s office and the criminal justice system” and did not want to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Alleged alcohol supplier will face charges, DA says


Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008 4:30 AM EDT

The person who allegedly supplied alcohol to those charged in this month’s beating death of an illegal Mexican immigrant in Shenandoah will be charged soon, Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman said Wednesday.

“The complaint’s been prepared,” Goodman said. “The investigation is complete.” Goodman said the person will be mailed a summons for a charge of selling or furnishing alcohol to minors, a misdemeanor.

Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, died July 14 from injuries suffered in a July 12 assault. The coroner ruled the death a homicide and the cause as blunt force head trauma.

Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, and Colin J. Walsh, 17, both of Shenandoah Heights, are charged with criminal homicide and other offenses in connection with Ramirez’s death, while Derrick M. Donchak, 18, of Shenandoah, is charged with aggravated assault and other offenses.

All are awaiting their preliminary hearings, which had been scheduled for Monday, but Goodman said Wednesday they had been postponed. A spokeswoman for Magisterial District Judge Anthony J. Kilker, Shenandoah, who will preside over the hearings, said they have been rescheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 18 in Courtroom 5 of the county courthouse.

Goodman said Friday a fourth suspect in the beating would be charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and other offenses. Those charges have not yet been filed.”


It was during the vigil for Luis Eduardo Ramirez when I was looking at the diverse crowd of approximately 150 people.

We must take responsibility for the community, I told the participants. We can’t return bigotry and prejudice with hate. We must rise above such ignorance by extending an understanding hand to our neighbors and to the community as a whole.

Our lives continue to provide us with choices. We can choose to stand by with condescending dismay of our town’s condition and wish for the community as a whole to change. Or we can choose to take responsibility for our own lives by becoming the change that we would like to see in others.

The ability to bring about positive change lies within each of us. Each and every person is born with that inalienable right to reach out to others as beacons of light and hope.

We must also keep in mind that our life’s path is paved by those same choices.

We must choose to live our lives in a way so that others can emulate and embrace our way of life. These lifestyle values are not for the few but rather they are rooted in our ethnic heritage and family trees.

The violence against Luis Eduardo Ramirez and his eventual death at the hands of Shenandoah teenagers has been extremely painful for his immediate family, his friends, and shocking for the entire community.

This tragic hate crime should be a wakeup call for the adult community. We cannot rely on schools whether they are private or public to instill values in our neighborhood children. Those values must be instilled in the home. Bigotry and prejudice begets condescending hate and eventually violence against our own humanity.

If we want to live in a better world we must take responsibility for the condition of our neighborhoods and our community by becoming the change. We as individuals must change for the better. It is easy to sit by and point the finger at others. We all have that tendency to judge others for not living up to our imagined standards. Living up to our own standards and principles can be hard to achieve if not impossible because few live up to their own principles.

The immigrants in our communities may not look like the majority of us, they may or may not speak our language, and they may not fit into the prejudicial world that some in our community would like to live in. It wasn’t that long ago when segregation was the norm but it took forceful and enlightened voices to put an end to racial discrimination.

We also tend to forget that our ancestors when they came to this country did not quite fit into the established customs and norms that were set down. They too were abused and discriminated against. That is why we must reach out a helping hand like our ancestors reached out to the members of their communities when they arrived here as immigrants from foreign countries.

It is unfortunate that the mining legends are becoming ancient history for the Shenandoah youth and that the Shenandoah Historical Society is not reaching out to our community’s youth. We must help the youth understand that the immigrants that came to our region to work the coal mines provided our town and the region as a whole with cultural diversities. The cultural diversity gave our coal mining towns a rich character.

Our ancestors with their reach ethnic heritage implicitly understood. What we give to our communities, we give to ourselves, and what we change in ourselves, we change in our community. Our humanity whether we are aware of it or not is our greatest resource, in times of plenty, and in times of great need.

The Shenandoah community must realize also that if we truly want to see the town of Shenandoah become revitalized whether it is through Downtown Shenandoah, Inc or other future monetary endeavors. We must reach out and become more accepting of the Hispanic business owners and to the Hispanic population as a whole.

This national news coverage of the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez only goes to show that today’s Hispanics have a voice and that voice was heard. Their voice is bringing about a change for the better not only in their own lives but perhaps for our entire diverse community.

The Hispanics cultural heritage is being instilled in their American born children and their children will instill those same values to their grandchildren. They are contributing to the town’s overall heritage, a heritage that can be proudly passed on to the next generation.

With love,
Thomas F. O'Neill

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online. (800) 272-6464

Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777

Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.


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