Honor Abriel Ruiz, with Paz en el Barrio
By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa
His troubled life was a product of the dangerous streets he grew up on; the violent streets that recently claimed his life at age 34.
Friends and family of Abriel Vincent Ruiz will host Paz en el Barrio, or Peace in the Barrio, a community walk against street violence at 1 p.m., Sunday, October 12, 2014 in Toledo, Ohio.
The public is encouraged to participate and gather at the corner of Broadway and Hawley streets where Mr. Ruiz was shot and killed at 1:30 a.m., on Sept. 3.
The purpose of the event is to promote peace and non-violence in the community, said Monica Morales, one of the event organizers. Mr. Ruiz was also her cousin.
“We need to reach these kids and get them off the streets,” said Ms. Morales. “We need to teach them who they are and help teach them how to commit to a better future. We are losing too many people to these streets.”
Marchers will proceed to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) headquarters, 1221 Broadway St., where refreshments will be served. A display of Mr. Ruiz’s artwork will be on display at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, 1225 Broadway.
This summer, co-sponsor FLOC created the FLOC Homies, which offers young gang members programs to help them transition out of gangs and learn to become productive citizens.
FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez said Mr. Ruiz, who was released from prison 10 months ago, had spent the last months of his life reaching out to young people and trying to help them avoid the same troubled path that he did. Mr. Ruiz served 16 years in prison for manslaughter.
“Before he died he was out telling the young to stay off the streets,” said Mr. Velásquez. “He was coaching the kids, “don’t do the stupid things I did. This should be one of his legacies.”
The event is being held on what would have been Mr. Ruiz’s 35th birthday, said his sister Juanita Ruiz. She describes her brother as “a very outgoing, happy person, who could light up a room.”
But his life personality took a noticeable turn after their mother and father split up after 21 years of marriage, said Juanita Ruiz, 36.
“It was a devastating blow to mom and us,” she said. “It makes just my brothers and I; that’s what set him over the edge. He and our dad were really tight. He just became really hard-headed and mad at the world.
“But the streets welcomed him and showed him love. So when one of the gang members got attacked, he felt like he was sticking up for family.”
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for manslaughter, the result of a gang fight in 1997.
During the first six years in prison, Abriel was kept in a maximum prison where he was in lockdown for 23 hours a day, his sister said. During his entire sentence Juanita and their mother Amelia Ruiz constantly sent him letters and visited him as often as possible.
“In prison he learned that his gang family wasn’t there for him; they weren’t as big and strong as he thought,” said Juanita Ruiz. “He also realized that mom and I and the kids had moved on with our lives.
During his time in prison Abriel began to read books about his Aztec culture and that discovery made him a different person,” said Juanita Ruiz. He became more self-confident and better aware of his potential as a man.
“You could see the change just be reading his letters,” she said. “When he first went into prison it was, “I’m a gangster; the 18-year-old Abriel that locked up didn’t want to see the world, he want to live in the old South End for life.
“After several years his excitement for life returned and all he wanted was to start all over from scratch.”
After being released he began pursuing a truck driver license so that he could “see the world,” his sister said. He also started hitting the streets and talking to youth about the dangers of gang life. Shortly before he died, he managed to bring three rival gangs together in one room and talked them out of a planned battle and encouraged them to try and co-exist peacefully.
“Life isn’t all about being tough all the time and being gang-bangers for life,” Juanita Ruiz recalls her brother telling the rival gang members.
The last day of his life started with news of joy and hope. He was excited about the news that his girlfriend was pregnant. Juanita Ruiz had just been promoted to manager at the Mexican restaurant where she works. They went out for a celebratory drink later that night.
While inside the bar, the brother and sister watched as a man attacked and began stabbing their cousin across the room. Abriel ran to his cousin’s side and was stabbed also before the attacker was subdued.
Their good mood ruined, Abriel and Juanita decided to leave the bar. As they walked to the corner of Broadway and Hawley a man shot Abriel twice.
“He was in front of me when he was shot,” said Juanita Ruiz who was standing just a couple of feet away. He turned around and looked at me like, “shoot, I’m sorry.” There was no look or sound of anger or hate toward his killer. There was just a peaceful look on my brother’s face when he died.
“He died so peacefully, I’m sure he had angels with him. It was God’s plan to take him to a different place.”
The shooter has not yet been caught. Anyone with information about the shooting is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-996-8847 where tips can be left anonymously.