Shenandoah Struggles to Heal after Beating Death of Mexican Immigrant | Not in Our Town

Shenandoah Struggles to Heal after Beating Death of Mexican Immigrant

On July 14, 2008, 25-year-old Luis Eduardo Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant and resident of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, was brutally beaten to death by a group of teenagers from the small Appalachian town. As Ramirez was kicked and punched, witnesses say the teens yelled racist slurs at Ramirez, and told the woman he was walking home with to “get your Mexican boyfriend out of here.” Ramirez was beaten so severely he never regained consciousness, and two days later, died from his injuries.

Four Shenandoah teens have been arrested in the killing of Ramirez, who picked cherries and held down a local factory job to support his three children and fiancée. Two of the teens have been charged with murder; and another, Shenandoah’s former high school quarter back, with aggravated assault — all face ethnic intimidation charges. A fourth teenager is being charged as a juvenile for his role in the attack. Federal authorities are helping to monitor the investigation and prosecution, including the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI, which reported a 37 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos nationwide from 2003 to 2006. [See the FBI’s latest report here.]

The tragedy has shocked many long time residents of the once booming coal mining town. But others see Ramirez’ murder as a tipping point in increasing racial and ethnic intolerance in Shenandoah, where the county’s Latino population has grown 65 percent since 2000. Before Ramirez’ death, his fiancée Crystal Dillman, and mother of his three children, says she often confronted racist attitudes, including statements like, “Take your dirty Mexicans home and give them a bath.” In other incidents targeting newcomers to the area, teenagers have sprayed racially charged graffiti, according to the local police.

In response to Ramirez’ killing, church and community leaders, along with groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), have held a number of public gatherings, including candle light vigils and prayer services in Shenandoah and the nearby city of Allentown.

At a Reconnecting Healing Service at the First United Methodist Church in Shenandoah one month after the killing, local resident, Thomas O’Neill, speaking after his father, Shenandoah Mayor Thomas F. O’Neill Jr., acknowledged he had met Ramirez twice in passing, but never had a conversation with him.

“That’s how most of the people in this town are viewing Hispanics — they’re just there,” said O’Neill, who urged Shenandoah residents to take the time to learn about their Latino neighbors.

After a recent Sunday service outside Sacred Heart Church in Allentown, nearly 50 people gathered with candles near a banner that read ”No to Racial Discrimination.”

 Marcos Urbina, president of the Mexican Cultural Association of the Lehigh Valley, was among them, and he challenged those residents who might be privately blaming Ramirez for being in the country illegally. “This man isn’t dead because he was here illegally,” Urbina told The Morning Call, Allentown’s newspaper. ”This man is dead because he was Hispanic. It could have been me or anyone else.”

Read more about community response:

Vigils Call For Tolerance (Allentown Morning Call)

Service Aims to Draw Shenandoah Together (Pottsville Republican-Herald)

Ramirez Candlelight Vigil (video by Nick Meyer of the Scranton Times-Tribune)



Mexican Missionary says:

I'm glad to see the community respond in a compassionate manner to the victim. Why the hate toward a Mexican?

Add new comment