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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Gunshot victim was celebrating with his family

Slaying is city’s 19th homicide of year

Juanita Ruiz speaks about her brother Abriel Ruiz who was fatally shot outside Panama J's bar in South  Toledo. Juanita Ruiz speaks about her brother Abriel Ruiz who was fatally shot outside Panama J's bar in South Toledo.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

From the shadows and into the yellow glow of a street light was a man with a gun.

He fired once. And then again.

Abriel Ruiz turned around, said to his older sister, “I’ve been shot.” He stumbled toward her. Continued gunfire forced his sister to take shelter behind a pickup truck.

Ruiz fell, leaving behind him a trail of blood.

“You could just see the light go out of him,” said Juanita Ruiz, rolling a tissue between her fingers. Her brother, the baby of the family, was dead, and she was there to see the entire thing.

RELATED CONTENT: The Blade 2014 Homicide Database

Ruiz, 34, was shot on Monterey Court, off of South Hawley Street, at about 1:35 a.m. Wednesday. He was taken to the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, where he was pronounced dead.

Lucas County deputy coroner Maneesha Pandey, who performed an autopsy Wednesday, ruled the death a homicide. She said Ruiz died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Toledo police Lt. Dan Gerken said investigators “still have a lot to do” in the case, like rounding up potential witnesses for questioning. No charges have been filed in the death, the city’s 19th homicide of the year.

Abriel Ruiz Abriel Ruiz

Wednesday morning, Ruiz’s blood still stained the brick road.

Ruiz, his sister, and other family and friends were at Panama J’s bar, on Broadway and South Hawley, when a fight started inside the bar. A man with a knife cut Ruiz’s cousin; Ruiz hit the man and was then himself stabbed, but knocked the knife to the ground. A group of bar patrons herded the suspect outside where a dispute continued and the gunman apparently laid in wait.

Ms. Ruiz said the man who fired the fatal shot had not been in the bar, but seemingly “came from nowhere.” Perhaps he’d been hiding among the branches of a tree fallen across a lawn and sidewalk.

Ruiz had been home from prison for less than a year. He was released in November after serving a 16-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and felonious assault. In 1997, when he was 18, Ruiz stabbed Charles Cook and Antwon Sanders; Mr. Cook died from the injuries.

“I haven’t had my brother in 16 years,” Ms. Ruiz said, crying. “I finally got to be with my brother and this senseless act just made everything so bad.”

When he went to prison, Ruiz was an active member of the Choloz, a primarily Hispanic gang with heavy ties in Toledo’s Old South End, where Ruiz and his family lived. He went to prison as “a thug, a kid, a hardass,” but he came home a different man, Ms. Ruiz said. He missed his nieces and nephews growing up. He was in prison when his father died of cancer and when his grandmother died. He learned, Ms. Ruiz said, that there was so much more to life than what he’d known.

Ruiz had recently taken to working out with his family — they call themselves Team Get Big — and he was a tattoo artist at Electric Tattoo on Starr Avenue in East Toledo. He wanted to get his commercial driver’s license to travel in hopes of making up for all the time he spent behind bars.

He was letting the boys in the neighborhood know that prison was not a place to end up — that flying colors in honor of a gang was no way to live. His bad experiences, he hoped, would be someone else’s lesson.

Abriel Ruiz was shot and killed outside Panama J’s bar in South Toledo. He had been released from prison in November after serving 16 years. Abriel Ruiz was shot and killed outside Panama J’s bar in South Toledo. He had been released from prison in November after serving 16 years.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

On Tuesday, after Ms. Ruiz announced she was being promoted to a manager at the restaurant where she works, Ruiz let on that he had good news too.

Soon, he said, he would become a dad.

That’s why the family decided to go out Tuesday night. To celebrate.

“It was all good news yesterday,” Ms. Ruiz said. “We were listening to ’90s music. Jamming to Mexican music, playing pool. I can still hear his laugh from last night.

“Every day,” she said, “has been perfect.”

Police ask that anyone with information on Ruiz’s death call Crime Stoppers at 419-255-1111.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

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