David Ortiz at MGH after being flown to Boston
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Red Sox legend David Ortiz, badly wounded in a close-range shooting here Sunday, was flown to Boston on a team-chartered aircraft Monday night for specialized care at Massachusetts General Hospital, as authorities searched for a motive and any other possible suspects in the brazen attack.
Shot in the back in an ambush at a popular night spot in his native Santo Domingo, Ortiz apparently feared the worst after a fellow patron rushed him in his personal car to an emergency room.
“Please don’t let me die,’’ Ortiz, 43, reportedly told a member of the hospital trauma team. “I’m a good man.’’
Doctors in the Dominican Republic said Ortiz underwent surgery to repair his small intestine, large intestine, and liver, all of which were damaged by a single shot from a handgun. One suspect was in custody Monday evening.
The doctors said the surgery had been successful and that Ortiz was in good spirits.
“When he opened his eyes, the first thing he did was ask to see his family,” said Dr. Jose Abel Gonzalez, one of the doctors who operated on Ortiz.
Ortiz and his wife, Tiffany, whom he met while playing minor league baseball outside Green Bay, Wisc., have been married for 17 years and have three children.
Ortiz arrived in Boston’s Logan International Airport Monday night, and shortly after 10:20 p.m., police vehicles could be seen escorting an ambulance out of the airport.
Earlier, Sox chief executive Sam Kennedy said Ortiz’s condition “is still serious but he is stable enough to be transported back here to Boston.”
Ramon Carmona, a longtime friend of Ortiz’s, was at his hospital bedside in Santo Domingo just before Ortiz was taken to the airport.
“We all thought he wasn’t going to make it,” Carmona told the Globe, with tears in his eyes recalling how frail he looked.
Ortiz, who retired from baseball in 2016, was on a four-day trip to see friends and family, including his son D’Angelo, Carmona said.
The days ahead may provide answers to many critical questions, from the nature of Ortiz’s recovery to why a national hero found himself fired upon as if he were the target of a gangland hit.
Trauma surgeons in Boston said Ortiz’s condition may remain precarious.
“The fact that he survived so far is good,” said Dr. Peter A. Burke, chief of acute care and trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center. “The downstream consequences will take time to play out. He’s made the first hurdle — he didn’t die.”
As Ortiz returned to Boston, and police in the Dominican Republic said the gun attack was not part of a robbery attempt, speculation swirled on possible motives for the ambush, including questions of why Ortiz had been singled out in such a public place, whether this was an attempted murder for hire, and whether there was anyone else involved.
One Dominican police spokesman told reporters that the shooter’s intended target might have been a singer named Secreto, a friend of Ortiz who was also at the bar, but there wasn’t any public evidence that this was the case.
Late Monday afternoon, Ortiz rode by ambulance to the Santo Domingo airport, where he was lifted on board for the four-hour flight to Logan International Airport. He was headed to Massachusetts General Hospital, one of several medical facilities in the United States and Dominican Republic that have received millions of dollars to help critically ill children donated through the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
“We all love David Ortiz,’’ Kennedy said.
Ortiz’s ordeal began Sunday at about 8:50 p.m., as dusk fell on Santo Domingo. A slightly blurry video recording shows him seated at a fashionable open-air cafe, the Dial Bar and Lounge, nearly every table occupied. He was calmly chatting with a tablemate, later identified as a Dominican television variety show producer named Jhoel Lopez.
As they sat close to a sidewalk lined with palm trees, a man brandishing a handgun suddenly rushed up behind Ortiz and fired a round into his back. It appears Ortiz never saw the shooter.
As the crowd scattered, Ortiz toppled backward and collapsed to the ground, where he momentarily lay sprawled alone amid the chaos.
Lopez jumped as the shot rang out. He was wounded in the leg, apparently by the same bullet, he told reporters. He said he was not seriously hurt and expected to be released from the hospital Monday.
Police said the shooter hopped on a motorcycle with a second suspect, but as they tried to flee they lost control of the bike and crashed a short distance away. A small mob of angry onlookers, apparently aware Ortiz had been shot, caught one of the suspects and pummeled him until he was bloodied and cowering. They held him until the police came.
Police identified the suspect as Eddy Vladimir Féliz Garcia, who they said has a history of drug possession.
“Some wanted to kill him, but several people prevented that so he will talk about why he did that,’’ a witness told the Dominican paper Listin Diario.
The other suspect, the alleged shooter, escaped on foot and by last night had yet to be captured. Police recovered the motorcycle.
A patron at the bar, Eliezer Salvador, said he was the one who rushed Ortiz to the hospital. Salvador described himself as a regular at the bar, along with many others, including celebrities. He said Ortiz arrived about 7 p.m., nearly two hours before the shooting.
Salvador said he heard the gunshot. Then “there was a lot of smoke,’’ he said.
When he saw Ortiz lying on the ground, Salvador said, he propped him up the way baseball players do when they’re injured.
“Let’s go,” he told Ortiz, and helped to put the baseball star in the backseat of his car.
But there was a problem. Salvador’s vehicle was trapped between two parked cars, so he rammed them both, rocking forward and back, until he made room to drive.
Salvador said Ortiz was conscious and talking during the entire six- to seven-minute ride to the Centro de Medicina Avanzada Dr. Abel González — where he asked to be taken. Salvador said he drove at speeds of up to 120 miles-per-hour. By the time they arrived, Ortiz was starting to weaken, but he was still talking, Salvador said.
En route, Salvador said, neither he nor Ortiz could figure out why the baseball star was shot. He also said Ortiz worried that he had been shot twice.
“I opened his shirt and said, ‘Look, it was just once, it came out, it was a clean shot, you’re going to be fine, you’re not going to die,’ ” Salvador recalled telling Ortiz.
Ortiz, according to Salvador, never cried out in pain or feared for his life during the ride. At the hospital, Salvador made sure to take special care of Ortiz’s diamond-encrusted jewelry as well as his blood-soaked clothing. He said he returned Ortiz’s personal belongings to Leo Ortiz, the former Sox star’s father.
According to Salvador, there were at least two uniformed, armed policemen near the bar at the time of the shooting, but neither reacted to the crime.
“They were just on the radio, communicating with someone, I don’t know who, but you should be able to see it on video,” he said.
The bar’s proprietors posted a statement Monday on Instagram, saying they were “deeply sorry’’ about the shooting and its effect on “part of our family,’’ citing Ortiz and Lopez.
“Thanks to God, they’re both out of danger,’’ their statement said.
Since the bar opened in 2011, “it has never been the object or place of violence or dangers of any kind,’’ the proprietors said.
The government ordered the bar temporarily closed on Monday.
Gun violence is not uncommon in the Dominican Republic. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the United States and Dominican Republic experienced the same rate of gun deaths in 2016, 10.6 per 100,000 residents.
Baseball stars are generally revered in the Dominican, however. Ortiz seemed as comfortable circulating in public in his native land as he has been in Boston, where he often socialized at popular night spots without personal security or entourages.
In Boston, Ortiz often arrived at clubs or restaurants with his friends or his wife, usually in his white Bentley, rarely with a security detail. He was widely beloved by those he encountered, from the rich and famous to parking valets.
Prince Smith, a former security manager at the Liberty Hotel, recalled Ortiz acting like a regular guy, despite his fame — and his wealth. When the night ended, Smith said, Ortiz invariably reached into the trunk of his Bentley and handed out $100 bills to employees, usually more than one bill per person.
“When I heard he got shot, I almost went to tears,’’ said Smith, now the security supervisor for the Boston Athenaeum. “David has always been here for this city. Now we’re all behind him.”
In recovery after hours of surgery, Carmona said Ortiz reassured his loved ones that he would be in good hands in Boston.
“It’s OK, I’m going to my second home,” he said. “They’re going to make me ready.”
David Abel, Felice Freyer, Travis Andersen, Danny McDonald, Alex Speier, Pete Abraham and Peter Bailey-Wells of the Globe Staff and Globe Correspondents Sabrina Schnur, Kellen Browning, and Alison Kuznitz contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer. Aimee Ortiz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aimee_ortiz.