Hispanic businesses in Montgomery, Alabama, feeling ‘hunted’ and afraid after triple-slaying

Hispanic businesses in Montgomery, Alabama, feeling ‘hunted’ and afraid after triple-slaying

Hispanic-owned businesses in Montgomery, Alabama, are being “hunted” by criminals, city officials said this week after three people were killed in a grocery store shooting that officials say may be connected to a string of targeted crimes.

To “those in our Latino and Hispanic communities … we see you, we hear you, and we are not going to stand for this,” Mayor Steven Reed said Wednesday at a news conference. “We are 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’re being right now.”

Members of the community say they are on edge after the fatal grocery store shooting and other crimes.

Police did not respond to requests to provide specific examples of other crimes that targeted Hispanic businesses. But NBC affiliate WSFA of Montgomery has reported that an ice cream store was robbed twice in two months, including in a Memorial Day crime in which a thief took the wallets of a customer and employee before a shot was fired into the ground.

Last month, a person was shot after refusing to give robbers money outside a Mexican restaurant, the station reported. The owner told the news outlet it’s not the first violent crime near the business, noting that a suspect once pointed a knife at his wife and ran off with the cash register.

“We remain vigilant in areas where these crimes are taking place, as some victims have been targeted more than once,” acting Police Chief John Hall said in a statement Friday. “We are actively collaborating with our federal partners on these cases. Together, we are working towards identifying and apprehending the individuals responsible.”

Officers are stepping up patrols near Latino businesses to thwart potential crimes, police said. Authorities said they are also working with the FBI and federal officials.

Police have not named any suspects or made any arrests in the robbery and triple-slaying Tuesday night that killed Daniel Lopez, 20; his father and store owner, Romero Lopez, 43; and a customer and friend of the Lopez family, George Elijah Jr., 50.

Daniel Lopez and his dad, Romero Lopez.Maribel Lopez
George Elijah Jr. and his wife, Claudia Cauthen.Claudia Cauthen

‘The community is very scared’

Maribel Lopez, 31, co-owned the grocery store Tienda Los Hermanos with her older brother.

She said this week marked the fifth time criminals have broken into or stolen from her store since it opened in November 2021.

In May, someone broke into the supermarket after-hours, took two cash registers and cut the power, she said.

The deaths of her brother and nephew and the targeting of Hispanic businesses have rattled residents.

“The community is very scared,” Lopez said. “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.”

Reed, the mayor, said he understands their dissatisfaction.

“I understand why they feel that way. …. I feel like they’re being targeted. We believe that has been the case as well, and we believe we are narrowing down who is behind it,” he said.

Seeking ‘stringent justice’

The mayor on Wednesday said Latino businesses appear to be targeted because some do not have access to bank accounts or credit unions, which means there is more cash in the store.

He and the police chief noted that while some may be hesitant to report crime or unusual activity to police because of their immigration status, officials are interested only in solving these crimes.

“If they’re a victim … I’ve classified them as a citizen of Montgomery. I don’t look at any other things,” Hall said.

He added that investigators are working with federal authorities to determine if federal charges are possible. They would fall under the Hobbs Act, “which prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We’re going to seek the most stringent justice that we can, and right now, that most stringent justice is going to be on the federal side,” Hall said.

‘They ruined my life’

The violence is personal for Mitchell “Holt” Elijah, 25, whose father was killed at the grocery store where he had been doing business with his friends for more than a year as a credit card processor, outfitting the Lopezes store with machines that accept credit cards.

George Elijah was at the store buying carrots for the family’s two labradors — and was also most certainly chitchatting with the store’s owners and customers — when he was killed, his son said.

“They considered him family,” Holt Elijah said. “I got so many Hispanic people of the community, of their families, [who] reached out to me, telling me how sorry they were and how they’re going to miss him,” he said. “It was so eye-opening.”

He said the violence that killed his father, who also owned a gold and silver business, was senseless.

“His biggest dream for me was to be respectful to other people. … He wanted me to be respectful, truthful and successful,” Elijah said.

During their last phone conversation, which was about five hours before the fatal shooting, Elijah said he and his father told each other “I love you.”

George Elijah’s wife, Claudia Cauthen, 39, said she’s struggling to come to grips with her husband’s death.

“I’m still very much in shock, thinking he’s not going to come through the door ever again,” she said. “They completely turned my life upside down. They ruined my life. I really hope one day, we can take care of theirs.”

Maribel Lopez, who said her family hails from Guatemala, described her older brother as jovial and someone who was always trying to make people smile. Her nephew was more reserved and never bothered anyone, she said.

She said George Elijah was a store regular who had a penchant for buying avocados and adored her family.

“They loved people,” she said. “I want justice for the three of them.”

She said her brother dreamed of opening more stores.

“They wanted to build a few stores and do stuff for our community. … He loves helping people.”

The business remained open Friday, but Lopez was unsure if her family would continue to run the supermarket because they’re scared criminals could strike again.

“It’s very difficult that someone can take our dreams away,” she said. “We deserve more.”

“Hispanic-owned businesses in Montgomery, Alabama, are being “hunted’ by criminals, city officials said this week after three people were killed in a grocery store shooting that officials say may be…”

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