[Hpn] Five teens charged in beating of homeless man

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 22 Jun 2001 15:00:38 -0700


The Bergen Record

Five teens charged in beating of homeless man

Friday, June 22, 2001

Staff Writers

Hector Robles was a homeless man who found a haven in a Paterson
neighborhood. Factory workers offered him refuge in their plant. A school
security guard left food outside for him. Youngsters gave him pocket change.

But on Wednesday, the slender, gentle man was killed in broad daylight by a
group of rampaging teenagers, police said. The boys allegedly attacked him
on the street with their hands and feet, and possibly a bottle.

By Thursday night, five teenagers had been arrested and charged with Robles'
murder in what one prosecutor described as a "wilding."

Law enforcement officials said the killing was set into motion around 10:40
a.m., when about a dozen unruly students started picking fights with other
teenagers outside John F. Kennedy High School. "Their adrenaline was in
overdrive," Detective Lt. Craig Perrone said. "Then it got out of control."

The group left school grounds and made its way down Totowa Avenue. It was
the final week of school and students were dismissed early. The brawling
continued as they walked down the street. Another student and a delivery
driver were attacked, Perrone said.

The students came upon Robles, who was sitting on a tire near Jasper Street.
It was one of Robles' favorite spots -- close to the Electronic Transformer
Corp. plant where the workers were nice to him.

An employee at a neighboring factory said he saw a throng of kids descend on
Robles. The worker, who did not want to be named, said Robles did not fight

At least five teenagers are suspected of beating him to death and are in
custody. Police said they expect to make more arrests.

"He was just sighted as a target," said William Purdy, Passaic County's
chief assistant prosecutor. "They went after him to beat and rob him."

Three suspects, ages 15, 16, 17, were arrested hours after the attack. Two
others, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, were arrested Thursday evening.
Four are Kennedy students and one attends School 13. Their names were not
released because of their age.

Rumors flew Thursday that the killing was a gang initiation rite, but
authorities played that down.

"We're looking into that, but it's not necessarily jumping out that way,"
Purdy said. "It looks like a 'wilding' situation."

Three suspects, all friends, appeared in juvenile court Thursday morning for
a detention review hearing. Superior Court Judge Nestor F. Guzman ordered
them held at the county's juvenile detention center in Haledon and scheduled
a probable cause hearing for Monday. No decision was initially made on
whether the state will seek to try them as adults.

There was no mention of the killing at Thursday night's balloon-laden
graduation ceremony for 276 Kennedy students.

But the death has left some in the city's tough-edged Totowa section in

"It's really bothering me that this could happen to him, and in broad
daylight," said Glen Urena, who runs an automobile dealership near where
Robles was killed. "I've known him for 13 years. He was weak, and he was
skinny, and he didn't give anyone any trouble."

Workers at Electronic Transformer said they were haunted by what they saw
and heard Wednesday. First, the sound of breaking glass. Then Robles'
anguished cries.

When they ran out, they saw Robles staggering in the street, blood pouring
from a cut above his left eye. They laid him down, brought a cushion for his
head, and dampened his face with water.

"I told him, 'Wake up Hector, wake up Hector, don't go to sleep,' " said
June Russell.

Reinaldo Williams, one of the first on the scene, said he saw a group of
kids running away down Totowa Avenue. "Somebody shouted, 'Those are the kids
that did it,' " Williams said. "But I stayed and tried to help Hector."

Robles lay in the street, his eyes open and his chest thumping. He didn't
say anything. He died of internal bleeding at St. Joseph's Hospital and
Medical Center. He was believed to be 43.

School officials said they had received reports of a throng of students
outside the school. When Kennedy Principal Richard Roberto investigated, the
group had dispersed.

The killing took place about a mile from the school.

Several students said the final week of school is notorious for fights. Some
said their classmates get swept into a mob mentality.

"They just fight whoever is in the way," said Cynthia Cahill, a 15-year-old
Kennedy student. "They just all come together."

Purdy, the prosecutor, said the suspects "were going through his
[Robles']pockets, trying to see what they could get."

Robles had been wandering homeless around the neighborhood for about 15

His typical day started at El Oasis Liquors on Union Avenue, where he waited
as the owner opened his doors at 10 a.m. He bought quarts of King Cobra beer
for $1 each, says owner Johany Rogriguez.

"He was very slow walking up to the register and taking his money out of his
pockets," she said. "It was always nickels, dimes, and quarters."

By midday, Robles would amble over to the electronics firm, where employees
allowed him to use the bathroom and offered conversation and camaraderie.

Workers Mohammed Bluiyan and Nathaniel Washington said Robles had a penchant
for discussing current events. "We'd say, 'How do you know about all this,
you don't have a television,' " Washington said. "He'd say, 'I do have a
television.' "

The employees liked Robles so much, they asked him to come to work for the
company. He would usually respond by looking at his watch and saying he had
an appointment, or that he had back pain.

General Manager Cliff Markowitz said it was never clear why Robles became
homeless, but that it happened after his parents died. "He chose that
lifestyle," he said.

Robles came from a family of six sisters and two brothers. They were close,
but all the nurturing didn't seem to help when his beloved mother, Engracia
Robles, died of heart problems when he was 17.

"That turned everything around," said his sister, Gladys Robles, 41, a
security guard at Eastside High School. After that, Hector Robles chose the
life of a recluse. "He didn't want any help, he didn't want anybody to give
him charity," she said.

Robles did not sleep in shelters, but instead chose to stay in makeshift
quarters ranging from a nearby school stadium to a garage on Presidential

Late Thursday, relatives sifted through his belongings in that garage.

"Everybody loved him, even the cops loved him," said Gladys Robles' husband,
Raymond Pagan.

Ronnie Frey, a burly security guard at School 5, said a school employee
would leave leftover school lunch food outside the building for Robles. Frey
said he himself left off canned goods. "This man was not a problem to worry
about," he said.

Porfirio Robles, 33, learned about his brother's death Thursday. "I went to
my job, the second shift. My boss called me into the office. He didn't want
to tell me what happened," he said. "He said, 'Go to your sister's; she will
tell you.' "

His sister, Maria Robles, sat him down to break the news. "He was a real
quiet person," Porfirio said. "They [the slaying suspects] had the nerve to
do this to him. I hope they have the nerve to be punished to the fullest
extent of the law."


Staff Writers Ashanti Alvarez, Michael Casey, and Justo Bautista contributed
to this article.

Copyright  2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
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