Luz Cruz knew as soon as she heard the gunshots.
“They killed my brother!” she yelled, just moments after Jose Ortiz had left their mother’s Stanley Holmes Village apartment at about 3 p.m., saying he would be back soon to have coffee with her.
“I felt pain in my heart,” said Cruz, 60, the eldest of 10 children.
Ortiz, 59, had just biked around the corner of the City Place apartment Thursday when a gunfight between unknown individuals broke out. A bullet struck him in the side, making him the city’s 14th homicide victim this year — and the first to be caught in the crossfire.
“It’s one of the things we’ve been so concerned about,” Public Safety Director Willie Glass said. “We addressed this when the young child was struck by a projectile” at Carver Hall, where Sedrick Lindo was shot to death July 29.
This time, shots came across the playground where City Place and Rosemont cross at what is known as the first village of Stanley Holmes.
“Usually, there are at least 20 kids out here,” said Nikki Smith, 33, as she sat on a nearby stoop with her baby on her lap.
Instead, her two older children were at nearby Oceanside Charter School, which along with Atlantic Cape Community College’s Atlantic City campus went into lockdown after the shooting.
“What if they weren’t at school?” Smith asked.
She was inside with the baby when she heard the gunshots. She got on the ground, she said.
“It happened so fast,” she said.
Cruz’s daughter, Maria Martinez, heard 20 gunshots. But when she ran outside, everyone was gone. Then, her uncle Jesus Diaz called from the next village. Ortiz was there. He had been shot once in his side.
Martinez made her grandmother Gregoria Zayas stay in the house as she ran to her uncle’s.
She found Ortiz sitting on the stoop saying he was in pain and urging them to call an ambulance. But when it arrived, she said, he kept getting off the stretcher and pulling off the oxygen mask. Once in the ambulance, emergency medical technicians worked on him all the way to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s City Campus, where he was pronounced dead.
“It wasn’t meant for him,” said Martinez, 41, as she stood in Zayas’ home.
“You always hear the ‘bang, bang,’” Zayas, 78, said in Spanish, her eyes rimmed red from crying over her loss. “There are all these children around.”
This is the fourth of her children to die. Her husband died of cancer in July.
Ortiz — her eldest son — had been caring for her. He came over every morning with a McDonald’s breakfast to make sure she ate, his sister said.
He would stay with Zayas for hours and do work around the house. Then, at about 8 or 9 p.m., he would return to his home — also in Stanley Holmes — and “do it all over the next day,” Martinez said.
Ortiz grew up in Atlantic City, and then lived in Ocean City where he worked construction. He had been out of work due to illnesses, but still used his broad creative streak both in art and in fixing things, Martinez’s son, Joshua Maldonado, said.
“There was nothing he couldn’t do,” he said. “He always put pride into his work.”
That included fixing up bikes, which were his sole source of transportation.
“Every time I saw him, he had a different bike,” Maldonado said. “He would always tell me all about it.”
His great uncle also had a gift for making people smile, even on a bad day.
“He used to joke a lot,” Martinez said, smiling as she remembered her uncle, known as Broco, a nickname whose origins weren’t clear.
When he was in jail many years ago, he was known as “chicken wing,” both because he loved chicken wings and because his left arm was smaller than his right.
On Thursday, people gathered out back at Zayas’ home, many in disbelief.
“Everyone loved him,” his mother repeated several times in Spanish. “They all loved him.”
He is survived by a daughter, Nicole Ortiz, 25.
No arrests have yet been made in the killing, but interviews are being conducted. Eight investigators were at the scene Friday, nearly 24 hours after the shooting. One investigator went into an apartment on the other side of the courtyard from Zayas’, while a member of the Forensics Unit took photos.
They left about 15 minutes later.
“This is why it’s so important that we have the community involvement and the community’s help,” Glass said. “Not only to prevent the people involved from being injured but certainly an innocent bystander or, God forbid, a child.”
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