They followed the well-trod path of generations of immigrants before them, three brothers, journeying to Boston from afar to open a corner variety store in a time-tested pursuit of the American dream.
But on Saturday night, two of them came face to face with a nation’s nightmare: a handgun-toting thief who walked into their Dorchester shop, demanded all their cash and fired shots that within hours would end one of their lives.
Jose Lizardo, 34, died in Boston City Hospital shortly after 11:20 p.m. Saturday from several bullets that ripped through his chest, police said. His brother, Ramon Flores, 24, remained in critical condition yesterday, unconscious and unable to help frustrated detectives solve the crime.
They, along with their brother, Chico, owned and worked at the store for over five years. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
As the chill rain patted against the metal grating that protected the
closed store yesterday, friends and neighbors mourned their death as another revolting example of what has gone awry on the streets of their quiet neighborhood. Meanwhile, police reached out into the community in a furious attempt to find the killer.
Lizardo was recalled as a friendly shopkeeper who strived to know his customers, a happy man who would gladly extend credit to poor neighbors whom he had gotten to know and had a smile and a greeting for anyone who came into his store. Outside, in almost primitive red writing, the sign read simply: “3 Brothers Variety.” Inside, neighbors said, there was warmth.
He and his brothers came to the United States from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and settled on the Dorchester corner of Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue, to open their modest store.
And for years they seemed to do reasonably well. Lizardo even had his photograph taken with some customers who were friends to show his parents during one of his frequent visits back home to Central America, neighbors said.
“We became friends just shopping at the store,” said Peggie Shelton, a busdriver who lives near the store. “We talked to them for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. “We would talk about our jobs. We would talk about my daughter in the Army. We would talk about schools. They had children.
“It was very nice,” Shelton said of the store. “They let us have credit over there because we were good friends. It is just shocking that they got robbed and killed. It is shocking.”
Police yesterday described the drama that unfolded inside the store. A lone thief walked in shortly after 9 p.m., ordered the two brothers to lay on the floor behind the meat counter, and at some point tried to rifle through three cash registers, only one of which he was able to open.
While on the floor, one of the brothers -- which one is unclear, detectives said -- pulled out a .38-caliber handgun of his own and fired the first shot in what would be a dizzying exchange of gunfire. The thief fired back, striking both brothers, then dashed out the door, leaving bills scattered across the floor.
“If they did get away with any money, it was a small amount,” said Superintendent Joseph Saia, the head of detectives.
Outside, Saia said he believes that the gunman jumped into a getaway car driven by an accomplice and sped to freedom. Meanwhile, one of the brothers, bleeding, staggered out the back door of the store and into an adjacent restaurant, where he called for help and then collapsed.
Police are now seeking a suspect whom they described as a black male, between 20 and 30 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds. Authorities said they are not sure if he was struck by a bullet in the volley. They said he was wearing a dungaree jacket and pants at the time of the robbery.
“We feel he fled by car,” said Saia. “That is why we need the public’s help.”
Police said the crime has shocked a community that in the past two years has made great efforts to fight back against criminals. A collaboration was formed between neighbors, police and businessmen, and beat officers are walking the streets.
“They were good people,” said George Peguero, a storekeeper down the street from the 3 Brothers. “But there are too many shootings here.”
Which sums up for police the inherent frustration in this killing, the marked step backward for a neighborhood that seemed bent on moving ahead.
“That is why it is so tragic, for the family and for the community,” said Capt. Robert Dunford. “These were good men. They were trying to improve their lives and the community they served.”
Contibuting writer Kevin B. O’Leary helped prepare this report.