The Death of Luis Ramirez and Shenandoah, PA

An updated post on the latest news relating to the trial can be found here.

The horrific murder of Luis Ramirez and the increasingly tragic story of the small town in which it took place are both featured in today’s New York Times.

Mexican’s Death Bares a Town’s Ethnic Tension
By Sean D. Hamill

SHENANDOAH, Pa. — Crystal Dillman knows that four teenagers have been charged in the death of her fiancé, Luis Ramirez, that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is monitoring the case and that most people in this small town in the Appalachian Mountains believe it was a horrible crime.

But Ms. Dillman, the mother of Mr. Ramirez’s two young children, is not sure justice will prevail.

“I think they might get off,” she said of the four teenagers, “because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.”

The case has raised similar concerns among Latinos across the country.

“For many Latinos, this is a case of enough is enough,” said Gladys Limón, a staff lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And it can help us get attention to the wider issue that this is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.”

Mr. Ramirez, 25, who had been in the country illegally for six years, picking crops and working in factories, died July 14 from head injuries received two days earlier.

Investigators said he had gotten into a fight with a group of teenage boys — most or all of them members of the town’s high school football team, the Blue Devils — who left him unconscious in a residential street, foaming at the mouth.

Exactly what happened during the fight is still hotly debated on Internet message boards in Shen’doh, as the town is called, with some saying it was just a street fight that went bad, and others claiming the teenagers singled out a Mexican immigrant for a beating and made anti-Mexican remarks.

Since Mr. Ramirez’s death, this town of 5,600 has been bitterly divided over the case, illuminating ethnic tensions that surprised town leaders.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans,’ ” Mayor Thomas O’Neill said. “That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.”

Prosecutors have charged Brandon Piekarski, 16, and Collin Walsh, 17, with homicide, ethnic intimidation and other counts in adult court, though their lawyers are trying to have the case moved to juvenile court.

Derrick Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other counts, including providing liquor to the other boys on the night of the confrontation. All were members of the football team; Mr. Donchak was its starting quarterback.

A 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, was charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other charges.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

After anthracite coal was discovered near the town in the late 1800s, immigrants poured in, mainly from Europe. The hamlet grew to a borough of 25,000 before the mines started to close. The immigrant groups largely got along, but they also felt the need to ethnically divide not just their churches — some of which are still considered “the Italian church” or “the Irish church” — but also the town’s volunteer fire companies.

The town’s biggest festival every year is Heritage Days near the end of August, when the major ethnic groups, among them the Lithuanians, Irish, Italians, Greeks and, more recently, Mexicans, put floats in a parade and sell ethnic food from booths.

Mr. Ramirez’s death has also reignited a regional debate over immigration that began two years ago when the town of Hazleton, about 20 miles from Shenandoah, enacted an ordinance that sought to discourage people from hiring or renting to illegal immigrants.

At the time, Shenandoah, whose Hispanic population has grown to about 10 percent, from 2.8 percent in 2000, considered a similar ordinance but held off after Hazleton was sued.

Even then, there were signs of tension. After the debate over the Hazleton ordinance, Shenandoah’s Mexican community pulled out of Heritage Days in 2006.

“They just didn’t feel comfortable then,” said Flor Gomez, whose family runs a Mexican restaurant in town.

Many people believe the debate fueled by Hazleton’s actions helped create the environment that led to Mr. Ramirez’s death.

“Clearly there were a lot of factors here,” said Ms. Limón, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been helping Ms. Dillman. “But I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.”

Hazleton’s mayor, Lou Barletta, said he saw no connection to his town’s ordinance, which was scrapped after the town lost a court battle.

“It’s a tragedy what happened to that man,” Mr. Barletta said. “But I don’t believe our ordinance had anything to do with it. Every person is responsible for their own actions.”

James P. Goodman, the Schuylkill County district attorney, who is prosecuting the case, said ethnic intimidation cases were rare in his county.

But town leaders have now heard about a number of incidents from Mexican residents that were never reported. The town is trying to reach out to them, said Mayor O’Neill, who said he still could not believe the fear some residents had expressed to him.

“How it came to that point, I don’t know,” he said. “But maybe these are things that it is good that it came out.”


36 thoughts on “The Death of Luis Ramirez and Shenandoah, PA

  1. The mayor has heard about other things that involve whites against hispanics. I live in Shenandoah, PA… What about all of the violence involving hispanics against whites? Our police department never did anything because they said it would be too hard to find the assailants. WTF? Hispanic against Hispanic crimes are daily here in this small town. Four stabbings in June 2008 between Hispanics alone, not to mention all of the fights involving punches and kicks! All of the hypocritcal whites and the Latinos are out there defending Luis Ramirez, but where are the reports regarding him being a fugitive? He was charged with aggravated assault in 2004 for stabbing two guys and charged with driving without a license in 2006. Where are those newspaper reports. I live in this town and the national media ( and sadly our local media) has made our small town out to be a bunch of hispanic hating hics. I don’t mind people here of different cultures, it is just the type of people they have turned out to be that bothers me. There is a prison nearby that causes low-income families with relatives in prison to move here, or welfare dependent dirt to move here because of cheap housing. If they would good people who moved into the town, there wouldn’t be problems, but the big problem is that this area has become worthless because of the influx of bad people moving in. Notice I didn’t say hispanics moving in… I mean bad people from all walks of life!!!

  2. 1. I don’t know if you do come from Shenandoah, but I can appreciate the kinds of feelings you express, however troubling and siheartning I find them. Still, there are differences between crime and hate crimes.

    2. Numerically speaking, violent crime does not happen “everyday” in your town, If it did, in matter of a few years, even you would be a violent criminal, or the lone person left in town.

    3. Sadly, you prove the point you try to debate. You express to us what sounds like hate in your choice of words and anger directed at people you do not know but pretend to have all figured out. All of it views this “dirt” (as you say) as though they are something other then the human being you are. The suggestion that a person who is charged for driving without a license is worthy of being beaten to death by teenagers is, simply and purely, an expression of confusion and hate.

    What you give us all is a snapshot into the kind of thinking that contributes to these kind of violent episodes as it tries to rationalize and explain them away.

    What you fail to do is to see how the death of Luis Ramirez is also yours, also mine.

  3. The media painted the picture that you see and express, just as my life thus far has painted the picture I see.
    I am not saying that Luis Ramirez deserved to die because of driving without a license, what I was trying to express was that everyone seems to think that the accounts of a 17 girl are all true. Perhaps there was more the story than what she told. My post only wanted to inform people that PERHAPS this man was not the innocent victim that the media and his “fiancee” have painted him out to be. He was a fugitive with a history of violent crime himself. The only difference in the stabbings he committed earlier and his own untimely death was that his victims actually survived the attack. FYI… there is crime in this town daily. I kid you not. Maybe not everyone dies when they get the crap beat out of them. And just because others happen to be violent, doesn’t mean I would resort to the same.

  4. “Perhaps” is a far different sentiment than what I read above, one we all have to live with in an adversarial justice system.

    In the end, stories like this tell us far more about ourselves than about the victims or perpetrators–whether in how we make sense of it, identify with it, or seek to incorporate its balance into our lives. We are all part of the context of this crime–in all of its complexities.

  5. I am an African-American, and when I saw those pictures of the group “Latina” organized for protest of this injustice and support of the family, it reminded me of The Black Panthers of the 1960s. Protest and civil disobedience are fundamental weapons in implementing change. My prayers are with the family and the Hispanic community as a whole. I wish the racism that African-Americans faced would have been the last, but in recent times, protectionist have unleashed similar hatred to many other minorities (Asian, Hispanic, Arab and East Indian)

  6. “The horrific murder?” Are you serious? Ramirez talked shit, got his ass beat for it, and died because of his stupidity. If I walked in the middle of South Central and started talking shit to the locals I would be absolutely surprised if I made it out of there standing on my own two feet. Race didn’t become a factor until the fight started. These boys didn’t just go “hey there’s a spic, let’s beat him.”

    All of you whining maggots need to spend time in a third world country to see what oppression really is. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the oppression we do have is something we should ignore, but when you’re looking for it where it’s clearly not that’s a sign that you’re not as oppressed as you’d like to believe.

  7. the real problem is not the hispanics.. it’s the media, they make the hispanics look bad, start a conflict race war with the whites. this is what they want inner conflicts, crimes start somewhere if it was a peaceful community one day , it can still be someone left the cat out of the bag, blame your politicians, they let this shit happen everyday. this is just a small spark, it will get both parties aggravated and retaliate, it’s common, you can destroy a city from within just let shit happen do little about it then a couple years from now after its been fucked up, clean it up and get rid of both.. it doesnt matter what race or criminal background you have, someone still has no right to take someones life away. thats just it weather it be white black or hispanic. as smart as these honor stundents thought they were they are dumb as fuck.. hopefully get raped by a mexican in jail or mr bubba ;D .. anyway its still wrong but shit its the system that makes shit like this happen and this is one little city.. thank godness it wasnt a black person cause then another Jena 6 .. if you have a loved one playing near a well they shouldnt be doing anyway and fall into it, should we not help that person? -,-

  8. Why isn’t anyone talking about the so called fiancee . The fact that the kid was an illegal immigrant for 6 years and was being harbored by her deserves some kind of punishment too!
    She is playing the so called grieving widow without a ring. If she has the guts to come out and admit the fact she was living with him then she deserves some kind of jail sentence too! When is this going to end? I feel for the people of that small town putting up with the illegal scum. If the illegals want to complain -they should apply for citizenship .Illegals have no rights…

  9. That town is a very diverse town with no history of any problems until the “Illegals” moved in.
    The unfortunate incident that occurred was a result of an illegal who didn’t care anything about the country ,town or the people just himself. If he were legal and alive, he would be thrown in jail for underage rape since he had a 14 year old girlfriend.. If he cared he would have applied for citizenship and try to make a decent life for his kids of many women… I agree with the “concerned american. “The so called grieving widow should be put in jail for protecting an illegal.
    Who are these other people from Chicago and other places attending the hearing for the three high school students? Half of them are not legal either. .. They have alot of nerve coming to Pa. they should stay in Chicago.

  10. He should not have been killed, and his murderers should be punished.

    He was an illegal-alien work-thief and fathered two illegitimate fishhook babies.

    Both of these statements are true.

  11. I can’t stand ignorant people. I can’t believe the one racist up there is in our army, I shudder to think that i’m being “protected” by such a racist a pfc…wth. Anyhoo I would just like to say as an african american I hate to see other races going through the same nonsense we have gone through for it seems like forever. Talking shit or no talking shit, lying 17 year old girl or no lying 17 year old girl, so called “illegal alien work thief with 2 illegitimate fishbook babies or no he did not deserve to die. Go to jail for being an illegal fugitive get deported maybe but jumped and killed by 4-6 racist pussyholes where not one of them was willing to fight by theirselves is what he did not deserve and there is no amout of reasoning that is going to make that true. They need their pussyclot selves thrown in jail for the rest of their lives for murder and maybe they’ll learn to fight on their own.

  12. Shenandoah has been a town I try to avoid for years but I seen enough to know this town was headed in this direction. Before Father Potts brang the Mexicans there. The no curfue hoodlums on the corners attacking cars that pass through, the throwing of beer bottles at traffic by Vito Rinaldi’s from the punks on 4 wheelers and getting away on the coal paths or behind the projects, to the ever so popular road rage idiots that drive through there, getting attacked at Redners by the quad riders, the 2:00 a.m. crowd that runs the streets for years. The Curfew they put on after the murder lasted a week if that, not only do the legal residents act like idiots but the mexicans do also, driving through the iga lot at least 45 mph almost hitting a shopping pedestrian than getting out and harrassing him for walking into the store. It’s a horrible little town to have to go through in my opinion and it always was before the Mexicans moved in, it has gotten worse because now you have the illegals with there attitudes to add to it. it’s just a matter of time before someone else is killed with the attitudes from people there, and i’m actually surprised it hasent happend sooner, its a shame for the people that live there and care for the place to have to live with the other people that hate themselves and everyone else.
    Was this a hate crime?
    Shenadoah troublemakers hate everybody and usually attack in clumps but this time there was a death involved so it had to get reported.

    Shenandoah Blue Devils should change their name to the Shenandoah Chest stompers

    did you know the cops can pull us over for smoking in our own property since 9-11-08 but can’t question an immigrant for proof of citizenship WTF! no wonder , we have less rights now a days than our illegal counterparts who dont pay taxes

    nobody deserves to die like that except the killers themselves, NI4NI

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  14. The town has no history of murder. It is a little tough coal town with people who work hard for a living. Every little town has their so called toughies . It has been like that as far back as I can remember.These so called illegals ruined the town . I would like to see all of them plucked out one by one and sent to Father Potts. Let him deal with them since he was instrumental in bringing them into town.
    A sting is in order for that town and Hazletown.

  15. Dear Latino Like me :

    The Legal Proceeding of the Murder Trial of victim Luis Ramirez, Killed in Shenandoah Pennsylvania in July 2008, in the most brutal form by a Gang of Teens.

    Let’s see how things develop, because the defense lawyer is alleging that Luis Ramirez was a bad guy that attacked the Gang of Six Youngsters with Racial Slurs.

    So the Gang proceeded in self-defense of this poor victim.

    “And that this was a common fight that ended in an accident”.

    This contradicts all the witnesses, even a White Retired Police officer that saw the attack from a window.

    I am trying to understand all this violence, hatred and Gangs of Murderers by studying the past.

    The Secret Societies of Murder :
    The Crypteia in Ancient Greece, The Thugs of Goddess Kali in India, The Leopard Men in West Africa, even the Head Hunters offer clues at aggressive behaviour.

    The more you study the Crypteia ( from Kryptos = secret ) the more you find analogies with the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Skinheads, etc…

    And the authorities that protect crime are also of great interest. Remember that in the mentioned case the Department of Justice had to intevene against the most flagrant injustice.

    Because the Shenandoah Authorities had fallen in the most Repugnant Complacency with the criminals and did not bother even to jail them in the first days of the aftermath.

    I continue using my sites to do research on this case and these historic and anthropological studies of evil and murder.

    Vicente Duque

  16. If you Americans had any sense,you’d give these 3 heroes medals for urban beautification. Mexicans are even MORE useless then niggers..and that is hard to beat.

  17. Pingback: Erik Estrada smokes pot in Shenandoah: Hispanic or Latino? « LATINO LIKE ME

  18. Pingback: Luis Ramirez and American Racism « LATINO LIKE ME

  19. This story is disgusting enough but the comments I’ve read here are even more disturbing. It’s like we’re living in the 50’s and 60’s but instead of Black people, the hatred is directed toward Latinos. I have never understood hate and never want to understand it. Just reading the hate-filled words makes me nauseous. We live in a very diverse country and that is not going to change so bigots need to get used to it. The sooner this happens, the sooner you will have peace in your heart and mind. Live and let live.

  20. Some of these comments are very disturbing. These kids were obviously favored in the “all white” jury. I can’t believe they are letting these two walk away. Despicable!

  21. all american boys!? piekarsky!? donchak!? these are polish names. only north of the mason/dixon line would these punks be considered american! i live in north carolina where we are being drowned by yankee immigration. yankees tell me they’re fleeing the crime ridden north for the relative comfort of the south. there’s an old saying “no matter where you go, there you are.” i like mexican people. they are hard working and quiet(they don’t whine about everything). they have intact families (this really needs to be stressed as our other largest minority group seems to have an aversion to taking care of their own children) this alone will enable them to catapult themselves above the shiftless/less industrious so called americans. i am a white man and i say WELCOME HOME MY MEXICAN BROTHERS! not all gringos are haters. take heart, your hard work and devotion to family will be rewarded.

  22. Racial Hatred is sadly a direct product of ignorance, of not knowing or wanting to know the personal story of another human being who may or may not me a good person. Is a product of the ignorance that has been poisoning the minds of children since the beginning of this country founded and built 100% by immigrants. Yes, you might be white or black or brown but the color of your skin is really not important in you are stupid enough to think that that color makes you a better man or woman. What defines your value is the color of your soul, and if you hate anyone just for how they look I guarantee you your soul is not white.

  23. This was murder. Period!
    Luis Ramirez was brutally beaten for the simple fact that he was a Latino. He wasn’t beaten to death because he was ILLEGAL. There was no way that those white boys could have known just by looking at him if he were illegal. This proves that the beating took place because Luis Ramirez looked Hispanic.

    Therefore, there is no justification for this murder.

    Bottom-line…regardless, whether he was legal or not, Luis Ramirez was a human being. No one has the right to take a life.

  24. This was murder! The fact of the matter is we will be the majority in 10 years and then we’ll see who cries. Jusctice will prevail. I came here illegally but hey guess what? I have rights now (this goes for the ignorant “concernned american”) b/c I was patient for 15 years now I AM A U.S. CITIZEN we will PREVAIL –VIVA MEXICO…SI SE PUEDE:)


  26. I’m a legal latino immigrant to the USA. I’ve had very little problems with bigots. Eventhough I don’t agree with the way this case handled, I can understand the anti latino sentiment. This anti latino sentiment was created by these unnecessary immigration marches from a couple years ago. Even being a latino that I am, I myself was getting very annoyed at the marches. This created this atmosphere that ended mr. ramirez’ life.
    I hope we’ve seen the end of these marches and it’s time that we call get along.

  27. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. If the marches “caused” the anti Latino sentiment, then how do you explain the 150 years of racism, lynchings, segregation, and violence which came before 2006? Besides, those marches stopped the Sensenbrenner bill from passing. There is no cause for murder but hate.

  28. I myself am amazed that that Mexican people did not go to the front of the so called court house and just SHOT those stupid RACIST pigs. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was to happen, and to have a large amount of Rowdy Mexicans and go do a Major Drive-By shooting. I don’t believe that Mexicans should come here to this Country Illegally, I am a LATINO born in this country and proud of it, but whites ask me are you “Mexican” that pisses the fuck out of me, because a mexican is one who is born in Mexico, I was born here. Last but not least is that even though the Luis was illegal, people DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO KILL another human being. Stop and think how many WHITE people go to Mexico to exploid that country, but they never get 4 Mexican to kill 1 White guy.

  29. I am reading some of these posts that Mexicans from Mexico calling themselves “Latino’s, Hispanics, etc”. I am a Latino/Hispanic because I was BORN here in the beautiful U.S.A. with a Mexican Heritage, so if your born in Mexico DON’T call yourself a latino or an hispanic just call yourself what you are a Mexican form Mexico. Don’t be in this country screaming “Viva Mexico” becuase people that say this remarks or shout outs, are the reason Ramirez got killed, you are just Teasing and Taunting us that Mexicans will take over this country. Yourself and that stupid “George Lopez” the comedian, yeah the one that makes FUN OF HIS OWN RACE, and believe that White people are gonna be runned out of their own country are living in a Fantasy dream. You have to learn how to write a personal check first. and don’t start with that this was our land first Bullshit, Example= House foreclosed you lose it, you can’t come back later and tell the new owners “this used to be my house so get out” you snooze you loose.

  30. Many citizens started out as illegals and went to class and learned English and took the citizenship exam and became citizens. Considering this is a country of Immigrants.. WE ARE ALL FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE..

    Just something to think about.

  31. I took the pain to go through the postings to get the pulse of Shenandoah’s, to understand how people in that community live and think, and how much do they know or care about the world outside its walls.

    It is somehow sad to verify that many members of this community match stereotypical views about the very worst in American mainstream culture: A poster view of ignorance brewing misunderstanding, fear, and hatred.

    How many among these ‘real’ Americans have ever been to Ellis Island?

    Do they know their European ancestors did not arrive to these shores with a Visa?

    How many among them understand, contrary to their beliefs, that crossing a border without proper documents is not a crime?

    How many of those who so intently label a person as ‘illegal’ understand the difference between an act and an individual or, worse, the dangerous closeness between epithet and prejudice in such context?

    Real law-abiding and educated communities the world over understand that rationalizing acts of violence against people who happen to be ‘different’ has but one name: bigotry.

    Those who care to dedicate a little time to taking a look at the world outside their city limits know that many nations on earth, either legally or customarily, recognize the free movement of people and goods as necessary for economic, social, cultural, and even political development.

    The question, thusly, for many in Shenandoah who consciously or unconsciously sanction such acts of intolerance is not really how much they gain by that behavior. The question for those motivated by this nonsensical fear of otherness should rather be how much they can afford to lose.

    Saludos cordiales

  32. To spen king (post of June 29, 2009 at 10:48 pm): I would like to exchange thoughts with you sometime. I am really intrigued about your views on this and other issues that concern those who care where our country is going. Please e-mail me at:

  33. Things are looking up on this case, they are indicting four police officers in Shenandoah for a cover-up and that will also effect the teens cases being revisited. Looking like justice will prevail on this one.


  34. To Andres, if you want the pulse on that community look no further. I’m in Ca now but grew up there, 21 years about 2 miles from the street Luis was murdered on. Been in plenty of fights in that town growing up. My town was another coal town two miles from there. Gang beatings are a signature of Shendo, never one on one.

  35. I have lived in the North Schuylkill County area for the past four years. I am a native of California, and I was really surprised to find a region in this country that is so far behind the rest of the country (socially) .

    There are lots of very nice people living here, however the area has suffered from economic hard times, and life can be a real struggle for many of the locals.

    The biggest problem that I see here is the lack of social acceptance when it comes to other cultures, ethnicities, and political views. The locals are in total denial regarding the racism that exists here. Those that are racists often use patriotism and concern for their safety as a basis for their racists beliefs.

    You can’t convince many locals (“Skooks”) that they really don’t have an illegal immigration problem here. In their view, all spanish-speaking, brown-skinned people are “Mexicans” and “Illegals”. Little do they know that many are Puerto Ricans (legal residents) and South Americans.

    Many of the locals are convinced that the hispanics living in the region are all “illegals” and that they are a drain on the local economy. They tell stories based on lies and misinformation. It’s impossible to convince them otherwise.

    It may take many decades for this region to catch up with the rest of the Nation. Time however will cure most of the problem. As our youths are exposed to other cultures and races, the barriers will begin to break down over time. Thank God.

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