06/24/2024

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Background: YouTube screengrab WSFA of triple homicide crime scene in Montgomery, Alabama, June 4, 2024. Inset: Cash reward wanted poster depicting homicide victims left to right, George Elijah Jr.; Romero Lopez, Daniel Lopez. WSFA Instagram.

‘It’s easy being the hunter. It’s different when you’re being hunted’: String of robberies appearing to target Latino businesses ends in triple homicide

Background: Scene of triple homicide crime scene in Montgomery, Alabama, June 4, 2024 (via YouTube/WSFA). Inset: Cash reward wanted poster depicting homicide victims left to right, George Elijah Jr.; Romero Lopez, Daniel Lopez (via Instagram/WSFA).

After three men in Alabama — a father and son and a third man who was shopping for carrots for his dog — were caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery at a grocery store in Montgomery, Mayor Steven Reed declared to suspects still at large this week that the city would not stand for people being “hunted” after this latest robbery in a series impacting local Latino-owned businesses.

“People working their jobs in their community, trying to make it day to day, week to week, should not be preyed upon, should not be targeted. And that’s what we had last night. Two family members as well as a person there just doing a little shopping and talking to those that work there was caught in the crossfire. That’s something that’s, in my mind, that’s inexcusable for people to try and target a group who are trying to improve their lives and that of their family by people who are coming to steal and take their money,” Reed said during a press conference shared on Facebook.

Reed added: “We will find out not only who did that last night, those who committed this homicide that cost three lives, but those who have been targeting our Latino and Hispanic businesses all across this community — that will not be accepted. And we want the public to know, and in particular those in our Latino and Hispanic communities, to understand that we see you, we hear you and we’re not going to stand for this. We’re not going to stand for people to be hunted because people think they are an easy target or they are easy prey. It’s easy being the hunter. It’s different when you’re being hunted and that’s what they are being right now.”

Related Coverage:

    The triple homicide of George Elijah Jr., 50, and Romero Lopez, 43, and Lopez’s son, Daniel Lopez, 20, unfolded on June 4 near 9 p.m. The Montgomery Police Department had responded to a shooting at the Tienes Los Hermanos grocery store on Troy Highway and found both Elijah Jr. and Daniel Lopez dead of gunshot wounds. Romero Lopez had sustained a life-threatening injury according to police but was sent to an area hospital. He did not survive his injuries.

    John Hall, the acting chief of police for the Montgomery Police Department, said during the June 7 press conference that detectives are working on identifying the suspects involved in the shooting this week. Currently, police said they are conducting ballistics testing, interviewing witnesses and reviewing available surveillance footage from the surrounding area. Police have also increased their presence by sending out details to focus on violent robberies in Montgomery, Reed and Hall said.

    The FBI is coordinating with Montgomery Police as well and are exploring possible Hobbs Act charges once the suspects are apprehended. Under the Hobbs Act, it is illegal to interfere with commerce through robberies.

    Reed told reporters after the Romeros and Elijah Jr. were killed that Montgomery police and federal partners would “seek the most stringent justice we can.”

    “And right now, that most stringent justice is going to be on the federal side … and that’s what we’re going to focus on to get them off the streets,” he said.

    The mayor said he believes Latino and Hispanic business owners are being targeted because there is often a significant amount of cash on hand at these local stores. As a result, Reed said, federal agents and police have since been dispatched to the communities to “share best practices around cash handling, business operational principles as well as just safety principles as well, making sure we’ve reached out to area apartments where [Latino business owners] are living” as well as other members of the community,

    “They are being targeted, we believe that is the case as well and we believe we’re narrowing down who’s behind it,” Reed said, noting that people who do not speak English as a first language are often an easy target.

    A Latino community advocate in Montgomery, Felix Montelara, told local NBC affiliate WSFA that the robbery that ended in a triple homicide on June 4 happened within a mile of another armed robbery.

    Though police have increased patrols around Latino-owned businesses, acting police chief Hall strongly encouraged people who are victimized to file police reports.

    The tragedy at Tienes Los Hermanos has left an indelible mark on the victims’ families.

    Mitchell “Holt” Elijah, son of George Elijah Jr. told WSFA this week that he drove 50 miles from Auburn to Montgomery as soon as his uncle had called him on June 4 and told him: “Hey, something’s happened. Your dad said she’s been shot and thinks he’s dying.”

    Holt, who had just celebrated his 25th birthday a few days before his father was killed, told the outlet that his father knew the owners of Tienes Los Hermanos well. They used his credit card processing business and were friends.

    “He was involved in their family a lot,” he said, adding that George Elijah Jr. had even taken Daniel Lopez out to shoot guns or hang out.

    The owner of Tienes Los Hermanos, Mirabel Lopez had reportedly only left the store moments before her nephew Daniel and her brother Romero were gunned down. She told NBC that her store was broken into this May, too. Someone cut the power to the supermarket after hours and stole two cash registers.

    The Central Alabama CrimeStoppers organization is offering $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of suspects in this shooting.

    A request for comment to the Montgomery Police Department was not immediately returned on Monday.

    WSFA reported in May that a Hispanic-owned ice cream store in Montgomery was robbed twice in as many months. Surveillance footage showed the alleged perpetrator in that incident taking employees’ wallets and then firing a shot in the ground. During the first ice cream store robbery, it was the business owner’s teenage family members who were behind the counter when three armed people burst in and started making threats.

    Just days before the second ice cream store robbery, the outlet also reported that a Mexican restaurant near Malcolm Drive was targeted. The owner of the restaurant was shot after he refused to hand over money to the criminals but survived his injuries. WSFA reported he would have his hip replaced, however.

    Tienes Los Hermanos owner Maribel Lopez told NBC News the Latino and Hispanic community of Montgomery is “very scared.”

    “We have been robbed like many times, and they never did nothing to solve the problems. Not just us — all Hispanics have been robbed so many times and no one has done nothing about it,” Lopez said.

    The post ‘It’s easy being the hunter. It’s different when you’re being hunted’: String of robberies appearing to target Latino businesses ends in triple homicide first appeared on Law & Crime.