Advertisement

Local Merchants React to Slaying

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In November 1996, restaurant owner Isabel Guzman, 30, was shot to death by a drunken patron wielding two pistols.

Less than two years later, Mirna Regollar, a 25-year-old mother of two, was fatally shot by would-be robbers while tending her family convenience store.

And Saturday night, clothing store owner Mario Leovardo Lizarraga, 41, was shot twice in the head and left to die following an apparent robbery.

The killings of three Main Street shopkeepers in three years has left a few downtown merchants shaken and concerned about their safety.

Advertisement

At 5 de Mayo Jewelry, across the street from Lizarraga’s store, Monica Alvarez was keeping her older sister company at the family’s shop Monday afternoon. She said her sister was afraid to be alone in the store.

“We’re being more cautious here,” said Monica, 15. “It’s very scary around here.”

Next door, Gloria Hernandez, a 39-year-old seamstress who makes First Communion dresses for local girls, said she now fears for her own life.

“If it happened to them,” she said, “it could happen to me.”

Advertisement

But for the most part, downtown merchants said that the weekend’s violence didn’t scare them. Some noted that they had already increased security at their shops.

Steve Elliott, owner of El Paso Department Store, said he installed a surveillance camera and stopped filling his display windows with merchandise after he was hit by burglars seven years ago.

“I certainly don’t feel unsafe in this town,” he said.

Elliott was working late the night of Lizarraga’s killing and saw his light on as he headed home. He cringed at the thought that he might have spared Lizarraga’s life if he had stopped to talk.

“It’s unfortunate that night that I didn’t look in,” he said.

Elliott was among a handful of merchants who handed over to police surveillance tapes taken from store security cameras, in the hope that they would help investigators identify the killer, Police Chief Bob Gonzales said.

Investigators have eliminated the possibility that the crime was gang-related, but have made no arrests.

The night of the killing, there were half a dozen officers within a mile of Lizarraga’s store, Gonzales said.

Advertisement

“It’s a shame,” Gonzales said. “You’d walk down Main Street and he was always very gracious, very hospitable.”

Gonzales said none of the merchants have asked him to step up enforcement. But he worries that the 24-hour convenience stores and gas stations draw crime.

On Monday, the black iron gates were pulled down on Lita’s Clothing store, a place Lizarraga named for his wife of 17 years, Manuelita.

Fifteen-year-old Mario, Lizarraga’s oldest son, went to school to hide from the sadness at home. The victim’s other son, Luis, 14, and daughter, Cynthia, 9, stayed home with their mother and wore their best clothes in honor of their father’s death.

Pictures of the family decorated the walls of the family’s two-story home that sat in a small, upscale neighborhood off Telegraph Road. Lizarraga, 38, cried as she recalled the late-night phone call from her cousin notifying her of her husband’s death.

“At first I thought he got hit,” she said in Spanish while her son translated. “But I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.”

She said her husband was a hard-working man who wanted the best for his family.

“He wasn’t happy until he had the best,” she said. “I was proud about everything he’s done for us.”

Advertisement


Advertisement