In the aftermath of tragedy, Bolivar Cruz will get his final wish. The storekeeper killed protecting his daughters when his South Ozone Park bodega was robbed last week was waked Monday, June 18 at James Romanelli-Stephen Funeral Home, but he will be buried in his native Dominican Republic. That, said his family, is exactly where Cruz would want to be.
“He always wanted to go home,” said daughter Jalissa, who celebrated her 17th birthday June 18 under solemn circumstances. “His mother is there, and his wish was to see her. So we’re giving him his last wish.”
Survived in the U.S. by seven daughters, common-law wife Nila Espinal, and a large extended family, Cruz’s mother and grown son, George, remained in the Dominican when Cruz emigrated in 1999. Ever since, said his daughters, he had wanted to return.
“I feel numb,” said Belkis Cruz-Seenath, 30, Bolivar’s oldest daughter. “I wish this wasn’t real.”
Most of Cruz’s family was dressed identically at the open-casket wake, in white tops and black pants. Such unity, said Cruz-Seenath, is the only way to survive the pain.
“We’re just trying to stick together as a family,” she said. “Just trying to hold up.”
“What I feel, my whole family feels,” said daughter Angelina, 24, who was in the store when the shooting occurred. “We go through it together.”
Angelina said she remembers little about the incident, other than three men running in and ordering her to get down on the floor, then hearing a shot.
“These men are not human,” she said of her father’s killers.
Cruz, along with his bodega, Kennedy Mini Market, located at 133-45 131st Street, had come to personify the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“If somebody was hungry and didn’t have money, they wouldn’t leave hungry,” said Jose Diaz, 47, a friend of the Cruz family. “Bolivar always did favors.”
“I’d go in every Sunday before church, after church, sometimes even during church,” said friend and neighbor Mike Jones, 47. “If these greedy, selfish individuals had known what kind of guy Bolivar was, they wouldn’t even have bothered robbing him.”
But the fate of the store now appears grim, as a community and family tries to pick up the pieces of a shattered life.
“As far as I know, we’re going to give up on the business,” said Cruz-Seenath, who worked in the store for four years. “After what happened, I know I, personally, don’t want any part of that.”
The wake, which ran from 1 to 9 p.m., saw friends and family file in and out all day. Some called for the men who killed Cruz to turn themselves in, while others simply mourned the loss of their loved one. Many family members, however, donned smiles, embraced each other, and laughed. The joy, said Angelina, was for the memories.
“You have to remember the good times to get through the bad times,” she said. “My father always had something to say to make someone smile. He never wanted to see someone looking too serious.”
“He did everything to protect us,” said daughter Adrianna, 9. “And the way he laughed made you want to have fun with him.”
The happy memories help, said Angelina, but they cannot erase the reality.
“It eases the pain a little,” she said, “but then you come back to the moment and realize he’s gone. I wish I could do the impossible to bring him back, but he’s gone forever.”
Cruz’s body was flown to the Dominican Tuesday, June 19, for a memorial and burial service.
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Cruz, 53, a native of the Dominican Republic, was known throughout the community for his generosity.
"All I could say is that he was a good man," said one of Cruz's nieces, who did not want to give her name. She said her uncle would donate money to the poor and sick back in his home country, where he was to be buried Tuesday.
The James Romanelli-Stephen Funeral Home at 89-01 Rockaway Blvd. was standing-room only as family members, friends and community members paid their respects to Cruz. Scores of people stood outside the building and a Guardian Angel stood guard.
Two Hispanic men and one black man entered Cruz's store, Kennedy Mini Mart, at about 9:30 p.m. on June 11 and demanded money before one of the suspects shot Cruz twice in the face, according to police.
Cruz pulled out his own gun as he tried to protect his daughters, who were working at the store, but was not able to fire a shot. He was rushed to Jamaica Hospital, where his family took him off life support on June 13.
No suspects have yet to be charged in Cruz's murder, and thousands of dollars in reward money for anyone with information leading to convictions in the robbery have been pouring in. The Guardian Angels contributed a $5,000 reward and Hispanics Across America donated another $5,000. On top of that, the Police Department is offering $2,000.
Pictures of Cruz with his daughters and wife, Nelli Cruz, were attached to a display board near his body inside the funeral home. Loved ones wrote messages to the slain bodega owner.
"So many thoughts going through my head, wondering if I could have saved you," wrote Cruz's daughter Jalissa, who turned 16 on Monday.
A memorial outside the store was growing by the day as mourners contributed scores of candles, Father's Day balloons and messages. Fliers outlining reward money were pasted to the metal gate of the bodega, along with notes asking the community to show their support for Cruz by attending his wake.
Police said the bodega theft was part of a robbery pattern in the 103rd, 105th, 106th and 113th precincts from March 17 to May 10. Authorities released information about the pattern the day after Cruz was shot, causing nearby store owners and residents to question why the police did not tell the public about it sooner.
"When investigators determine that a series of crimes constitutes a pattern, and it is in the best interest of the investigation to make that public, they do so," said Paul Browne, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, in a statement.
John Biordi, the owner of Biordi's Deli in South Ozone Park near Cruz's store, said the police have not done a good job in patrolling the neighborhood. He said he had rarely seen police cars since the bodega shooting. "They make you believe that they're helping you," Biordi said. "There should be more police."
He said his store was robbed two months ago in broad daylight, but the incident is not tied to the pattern, according to police.
"It's a shame what happened," he said about Cruz's murder. "You got to keep your eyes open."
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As investigators continue searching for the killers of Bolivar Cruz, the South Ozone Park bodega owner shot in the face last week, his family and friends said their final goodbyes.
On Monday, a wake was held for Cruz, the father of seven girls, just over three miles from Kennedy Mini Market on 135th Avenue, where the incident took place. Three gunmen entered the market at about 9:30 p.m. on June 11. One jumped over the counter and took $300 from the register. Cruz, who was loading the store’s refrigerators, rushed toward the commotion with his own gun but was shot before he could fire. His 24-year-old daughter, Angelina, was in the store at the time, but was not injured.
The 53-year-old died in Jamaica Hospital Medical Center two days after the shooting. Meanwhile, police posted signs around the market reminding anyone who had information about the incident that they could give anonymous tips.
Standing around a memorial in front of the store, Cruz’s friends remembered him fondly last week. “Tremendous person. Good friend. Good father. Excellent human being,” said Miguel Mercado. Mercado, who was in the market 15 minutes before the shooting, said that the store was popular because those in the neighborhood had to travel all the way to Rockaway Boulevard to get to another bodega.
Other friends and neighborhood residents recalled the 14-hour days Cruz worked to support his children. “All he did was work, work, Monday through Monday,” said Randy Placencio, who lived in the apartment above the bodega before moving to Brooklyn several months ago.
Kennedy Mini Market was one of 19 bodegas robbed in Southeast and South Queens since mid-March. On June 13, two armed men robbed the Ozone Park Food Center atthe corner of Linden Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway, the 18th incident. On Monday, Estevez Deli and Grocery in Springfield Gardens became the 19th location hit.
The family and friends of Cruz have asked why police officers didn’t alert bodega owners to the pattern. Others think that the police should have more of a presence in the neighborhood. “It’s too late now (to alert owners). They need some more patrol cars out here,” said a regular Kennedy Mini Mart shopper last week. The shopper added that Kennedy was such an attractive target because criminals could drive right onto the nearby Conduit to make their getaway.
Cruz, who opened the market roughly 20 years ago after emigrating from the Dominican Republic, was returned to his home country to be buried.