Laurel seeking answers in fatal beating Memorial fund, service set after killing of immigrant

September 23, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

As Laurel police continued their investigation yesterday into the beating death of a Salvadoran immigrant nearly three weeks ago, area residents and city officials were struggling to find ways to deal with the attack.

City officials announced plans to create a memorial fund for the family of Gilberto Hernandez, 35, a dishwasher who police say died from internal bleeding and brain injuries Sept. 8, four days after being attacked. Police have charged seven teen-agers with murder, assault and armed robbery.

"We can't allow this to ever happen again," said Henry R. Quintero, executive director of the Latino Task Force of Maryland, a nonprofit civil rights organization. "This is a real tragedy."

Quintero and other community activists met Monday with Laurel Police Chief Roy Gilmore and Mayor Frank P. Casula to discuss the killing, in which Hernandez was repeatedly kicked and stomped outside a garden apartment complex behind the Laurel Centre Mall on U.S. 1. Quintero said his organization has increased its efforts to monitor the investigation and pledges to work with local officials.

"This is a real watershed. We just can't let this go away," he said.

Charged in the killing are Laurel residents Cochise I. Queen, 17, of the 7600 block of Erica Lane; Gerald D. Culbreath, 15, of the 15000 block of 4th St.; Anthony S. Barclay, 16, of the 15000 block of Kalmia Drive; Sharif A. Sinkler, 17, of the 15000 block of 4th St.; Wayne Darby, 16, of the 11600 block of S. Laurel Drive; Kelly D. Martin, 18, of the 7600 block of N. Arbory Way; and David E. Burley Jr., 19, of the 15100 block of Kalmia Drive. All have attended Laurel High School, and all are charged as adults.

Quintero said he is concerned that crimes against Latino immigrants are on the rise in Prince George's County. He said the crimes often go unreported because immigrants fear their immigration status would be investigated or they have not mastered the English language well enough to report them.

Because Hernandez had money in his wallet when rescue personnel arrived, some residents suspect the killing was racially motivated and not a robbery attempt.

"This was not a crime of opportunity, it was a crime of passion," said Joe Camacho of Laurel, who attended Monday's meeting with Gilmore and Casula.

Police and city officials downplayed suggestions that the seven African-American youths targeted Hernandez because of his ethnic heritage and say that race relations in Laurel are generally good.

"This is a diverse community," said Casula. "This murder was an isolated incident. It was not about race. It is about too many adults not paying enough attention to their kids."

But some who live on 4th Street, near the Middletowne Apartments, where Hernandez was beaten to death, had another view.

"No one really likes to talk about this stuff until something happens," said Margaret Williams, an African-American. "It's pushed under the rug and kept quiet, but there are real racial problems and misunderstandings between us and them," she said.

Community activists and Latino leaders who attended Monday's meeting are planning an interfaith memorial prayer service.

Contributions may be sent to Hernandez Family Fund, C/O Citizens National Bank, 390 Main St., Laurel 20707.

"We need to find proactive ways to get the community talking about what happened," said Camacho.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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