Alfredo Contreras made it safely to Dallas from his home on the Texas coast before the arrival of Hurricane Rita last month. He and his family found refuge with relatives in North Carolina while waiting for life to return to normal in storm-battered Beaumont.
But his plans to finally return home yesterday with his wife and two young sons were dashed Sunday night when Contreras was shot and killed in what his relatives said was an attempted robbery during a family visit in the Woodlawn area.
"It is sad. We don't know what's going to happen next," said Viridiana Martinez, 16, who is Contreras' stepdaughter.
Baltimore County police are investigating the shooting, which occurred about 8:15 p.m. Sunday outside a townhouse in the first block of Pacton Place, a winding road lined by tidy, two-story rental units. Contreras had been visiting family at the home of his brother-in-law.
Police said that Contreras heard commotion outside and went to see what was happening. While trying to break up a fight between a friend and some unknown men, he was shot once in the upper body, police said.
"He was not out there when the initial fight started. He was coming to the aid of a friend," said Sgt. Vickie Warehime, a police spokeswoman.
Contreras' relatives - many of whom gathered at the Pacton Place townhouse yesterday - said the 48-year-old construction worker had been standing outside with his father and his 20-year-old brother-in-law, who was smoking, when two men approached in black ski masks.
The men tried to rob Contreras and his brother-in-law, Alfredo Gonzales, attempting to drag them away from the townhouse, relatives said. But others inside the townhouse heard the ruckus and ran out to help them.
"They panicked," Viridiana said of the masked men, translating the comments of her Spanish-speaking relatives and boyfriend, Gonzales, who were involved in the confrontation. "One of the guys pulled out a gun and shot Alfredo Contreras in the stomach."
Gonzales said that he and another man were robbed about a month ago in the same neighborhood.
The death is particularly difficult to handle, Viridiana said, because of all that the family had gone through in recent weeks. After arriving Sunday from North Carolina to visit Viridiana and other relatives living in the Woodlawn area, Contreras, his wife of almost nine years, Remedios Martinez, and their boys were planning to return to Texas yesterday.
The hurricane spared the family's home, though a tree fell in the front yard, Viridiana said.
"We just want justice," Viridiana said of her stepfather's killing. "He wasn't the kind of person who would do anything to anyone. He was outgoing, joyful - just a great person."
Police ask that anyone with information about the shooting call Baltimore County police at 410-307-2020 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-LOCKUP.