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At vigil for slain teen, Hispanic residents say they feel ignored

For the second time this week, family and friends of Oscar Torres gathered in public Friday to mourn his death, worrying, they say, that without holding vigils his killing will be forgotten and the person who shot him during a robbery will go free.

About 50 people crammed into the front room of the family's rowhouse in Southwest Baltimore, huddled around a memorial of white roses and pictures. They sang and prayed in Spanish before Torres' mother, Ernestina Torres, led the group the few blocks north to where he was killed.

"We want justice. We don't want this violence to continue," said Ernestina Torres, speaking Spanish and using an interpreter. But she added that she was not confident police would make an arrest.

Torres was killed early Monday when he and a friend were shot during a robbery a few blocks from Torres' home, according to police. The gunman took the white Ford Fusion they had been riding in and fled, according to police.

Family members said Friday that Torres was 15; earlier information provided by police indicated he was a year older.

A day after his death, officers in plainclothes saw the car, and as the driver fled he crashed into a minivan carrying 12-year-old Shanizya Taft, who was killed, police said.

Angelo Solera, an activist who organized Friday's vigil, said he felt that the news media in Baltimore had focused more on Taft's death than that of Torres, saying that the city's Latino residents feel ignored when they are victims of crime.

"The city has a race relations problem," he said in an interview before the vigil, adding that Hispanic people feel as though they are being targeted by criminals.

Police have not named a suspect in the two deaths but said this week that they are searching for a black man with a medium build wearing a white T-shirt and jeans.

Solera said part of the problem stemmed from residents who do not have a legal immigration status or do not speak English and so are reluctant to report crimes.

Tessa Hill-Aston, the president of the Baltimore NAACP, said her organization works with groups representing Hispanic people to build ties but acknowledged that relations between the two communities can be strained.

"It's just bad for anyone to think shooting or violence is going to solve their problem," Hill-Aston added.

On Friday evening, she visited the Torres family's home, using her cellphone to try to help raise funds to pay for Oscar Torres' body to be sent to Mexico, where he was born.

Catalina Rodriguez Lima, the head of a mayoral office that works with immigrants, said the city was also working with the Mexican Embassy to help repatriate the body.

Rodriguez Lima said the city is working to educate residents about crime prevention and make sure that Latinos feel comfortable with police, she added.

"We have a job to do in a sense to educate them that we're not [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]," Rodriguez Lima said.

And on Friday, a Spanish-speaking officer walked with Oscar Torres' friends and family, directing traffic as they made their way to the scene of the teenager's death.

The group arrived in the gathering dusk, and Ernestina Torres placed on the ground a single white rose she had carried with her.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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