August 27, 2013

Miami Shores abuzz after home invasions

Miami Shores police believe the same men are behind a pair of home invasions in the Shores and neighboring El Portal.

A pair of recent home-invasion robberies has Miami Shores area residents alarmed.

Miami Shores and neighboring El Portal have each experienced one of the incidents since Aug. 13.

The cases are the talk of the neighborhood, and more than 100 residents attended a meeting to discuss the cases with police on Friday.

In both cases, two young men approached the victims near their homes, pointed a gun at them, forced them to enter the house, and carried out the theft.

Miami Shores police suspect that the assailants are the same in both cases. The men are described as African Americans between 18 and 25 years old, one of them 5’6” weighing 115 pounds and the other 5’8 and 140 pounds. The incidents took place between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The first robbery occurred on Aug. 13 at the home of Alejandro and Alysia Ortiz on Northeast 101st Street near Third Avenue.

At about 11:30 p.m., Alejandro Ortiz was talking on his cell phone in front of the house when he saw two young men wearing hoodies with their faces partially covered coming out of the trees and pointing guns at him.

“The first thing I said to them was, ‘Be careful, there are cops around. Put your gun down, here is my wallet. You go one way and I go the other,’” said Ortiz, 33.

The men kept his wallet, but forced him to smash his phone against the ground, stuck their gun in his back and forced him to enter the house, Ortiz said.

Once inside, they pointed a gun at the head of his wife, who was watching television, and ordered her to lie on the floor. Alysia Ortiz told them that all the money they had was $60 in singles, which the assailants took from a desk drawer.

One of the robbers walked around the house with Alejandro Ortiz, looking for electronic devices and other items. Ortiz said they showed no interest in their television set or in his wife’s computer.

“They were looking for something they could put in their clothes,” he said. “They were calm and in a hurry. There was no yelling. Everyone was very cool. They wore gloves, did not touch anything and used their feet to move things. They knew what they were doing.”

The police report says that besides the $60, the burglars took a purse containing the keys to the family car, Ortiz’s wallet and a MacBook laptop. Ortiz said they also took the couple’s iPads.

Then they ordered Ortiz to also lie down on the floor.

“After a harrowing five minutes, the two young men, firearms still pointed at us, advised us they would be leaving and to ‘count to 30,’ ” Ortiz wrote in a letter sent to their neighbors alerting them of the robbery.

Then, on Aug. 19, two young men whose descriptions match that of the first assailants, pointed their guns at the head of Alejandro Amador, who lives only a few blocks from the Ortizes, on 89th Street in El Portal. It was about 10 p.m., and he was in the yard feeding the cats. As in the Miami Shores case, the men forced him to enter his house, where his wife, Diana, was with their 6-year-old daughter.

“I had just put my daughter to bed and I had fallen asleep in her bed,” said Diana Amador, who only remembers seeing her husband and hearing him tell the thieves to take whatever they wanted but to not hurt his family. “ ‘It’s all I have,’ ” she heard him say.

The men ordered everyone to lie face down in their daughter’s bed with pillows over their heads and to not look up.

“If everyone cooperates, no one will be hurt,” the assailants said, according to Amador.

She believes that one of them stayed in the room watching them while the other one went around searching the house. At times, they asked them where their credit cards were, what was the pin number and where their bank statements were. They believe a third accomplice was waiting at the door receiving their credit cards and leaving to use them. They also took some electronic equipment.

Amador and her family remained face down for three hours. Then they stopped hearing them, waited a while and Amador’s husband ran to push the panic button. The police came after the alarm sounded in the house. “If they had still been in the house, I don’t know if I would be here telling the story,” Amador said.

Detective David Adlet, of the El Portal police, said his village has not had an incident like this in years.

Alejandro Ortiz and Diana Amador went to Friday’s meeting at the business of Miami Shores Councilwoman Ivonne Ledesma, where village Police Chief Kevin Lystad explained what had happened.

“This is the kind of neighborhood where your neighbor has your keys,” Ortiz said, upset about what had happened.

He believes that fear will linger for some time.

“I’m being more careful now. Any noise and I’m up. Our doors are locked up by 8:30 p.m.,” he said. “No one should be afraid of taking out the garbage at 10:30.”

Ortiz, who doesn’t own a gun, is trying to organize a neighborhood watch to enhance security in the neighborhood. However, he is concerned that the situation might become tenser. He fears what might happen if three weeks from now a totally innocent African-American kid, like Trayvon Martin, walks the streets in a hoodie and is seen by a member of a neighborhood watch now that the community, which has a culture of bearing weapons, is more fearful.

He thinks that the lines are very blurry and that the more important debate is why some people have to resort to stealing. “It’s not a racial issue, it’s a social issue, of education and opportunities.”

Miami Shores does not participate in Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County, a nonprofit group that helps residents to work with police and neighbors to prevent crime.

Shores police recommend that residents remain alert while outside their homes at night, especially if they see unfamiliar vehicles or people, and to inform police immediately informed if they see suspicious activity.

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