Posted August 27, 2012
The murder of a South Omaha ice cream vendor has many people still wondering who would do such a thing. Could the three teens who robbed him three years ago be connected? Our Fact Finders team is investigating.
It was May 2009 at 23rd and Monroe. The ice cream cart had been pushed to the ground as some teens attacked and robbed him. They had taken his wallet and cellphone.
The vendor, Gilberto Hernandez-Vazquez, was shaken as he cleaned blood from his face.
A little more than three years later -- and a half-a-mile away -- the same man was gunned down as he sold popsicles at 19th & Y. Hernandez-Vazquez had been shot in the head by someone driving by and died at the hospital.
"It's not fair. It's not fair," said Janay Ramos who worked with Gilberto at La Michoacana -- the ice cream parlor at 24th and E -- where he picked up his supplies. "He was a good hard worker. He was smiling all the time."
When news spread of Thursday's murder, many people remembered that he had been beaten three years earlier.
In that case -- three teens were arrested, but only one was tried as an adult.
Antwon Chandler served two-and-a-half years in prison for robbery. The now 22-year-old was released in November 2011.
He has an iron-clad alibi for Thursday night. He was in Douglas County Jail. Chandler was arrested last month -- for being a felon in possession of a gun.
He's awaiting trial. His bond is set at $80,000.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood continues to grieve. The roadside memorial has grown. And those familiar rings of the ice cream man are a powerful reminder of what was lost.
Our fact finders team also examined the record of the 17-year-old arrested for the robbery in 2009...and tried as a juvenile. In the past year -- he had been arrested for trespassing and carrying a concealed weapon.
We were unable to find information on the 16-year-old arrested in 2009. Names were not provided by police since they are minors.
Friday, residents came to the scene of the shooting just before 8:30 p.m. at 19th and Y to pay their respects to the person they knew as the "ice cream man."
“This was an innocent man who roamed my neighborhood for 11 years and so me and my children and grandchildren would get ice cream,” said Janine Rapier. “In fact, he grew up with my family."
Rapier's brother built the cross that is now adorned with flowers in honor of 63-year old Gilberto Hernandez-Vazquez, the neighborhood ice cream man. Janine still has the hot peppers she planned to give him Thursday night.
“He was saving up to actually go back to Mexico where his family is located,” said Joaquin Manzanales. “It's horrible this happened. He was a good guy around the neighborhood, he really was. Even on scorching hot days he would give the kids free ice cream."
The neighborhood already misses his generosity, his gentle smile, the sound of the horn on his cart. It will be hard to explain to the children.
“A half-hour before this happened I was walking my dog and he was selling ice cream,” said Dawn Dvorak. “I said hi and he wanted to know if I wanted ice cream, but didn't have a dollar on me. I was going to go later on to get some ice cream from him and this all happened. It's tragic. I hope they find out who did this to him."
We learn the impact the ice cream man had on his customers. “We will never forget your kindness, the Rapier family."
Police are asking the public for help in finding who was responsible. The number to call is 402-444-7867.
It happened around 2:30pm at 23rd & Monroe in South Omaha. Witnesses say three teenagers asked to buy ice cream from 49-year-old Gilberto Hernandez's cart.
"He opened it...reached in and that's when one of the guys started punching him and another was kicking," says neighbor Aldo Hernandez.
The teens stole Hernandez's cash and cell phone. "Come on," says Hernandez. "They don't make that much money. It's only a-dollar an ice cream."
But why him? The neighborhood still can't understand that. "I go over here on the corner and see an old man with a lot of blood on him and he says, 'Yeah. I was attacked by three teenagers.' I wonder -- why would anyone do that?"
A couple blocks away near 21st & Madison, Omaha police are trying to sort it out. Witnesses say they saw the robbers run here. Officers took the teens -- two of them juveniles, 16 & 17-years old -- to central headquarters for questioning Thursday afternoon.
Here's some irony, while investigators sort out what happened and who did the crime -- an ice cream van drove by.
Six-year-old Pedro Mendoza had just bought chocolate ice cream from the man and his cart. He couldn't believe someone would do that to the ice cream man.
Omaha police took Gilberto Hernandez to the hospital to have his cut eye and chin checked out. In the meantime, the neighbors stored his cart -- until the familiar sound of chiming bells returns.