Miami-Dade County

Man who helped the needy shot to death in Little Haiti

Jose Ceruto’s mother, Josefa Rodriguez, bottom left, surrounded by family at Miami police headquarters on Friday, discusses her son’s death.
Jose Ceruto’s mother, Josefa Rodriguez, bottom left, surrounded by family at Miami police headquarters on Friday, discusses her son’s death. The Miami Herald

For three hours, Jose Ceruto’s lifeless and rain-soaked body lay on a well-lit Little Haiti sidewalk surrounded by homes. Nobody tried to help him. Nobody called police.

When police were finally notified around 3 a.m. Thursday, paramedics found Ceruto’s upper body riddled with bullet wounds. Police, investigating under the still-pouring rain, soon determined the only item missing from Ceruto’s body was a gold chain that had been hanging from his neck and tucked inside a shirt.

They believe the motive was robbery. Yet, other than hearing gunshots three hours before Ceruto’s body was discovered, potential witnesses have given them very little to go on.

Solving the shooting is further complicated because police have no idea why Ceruto was walking in the neighborhood at such a late hour. They believe he had been staying with a girlfriend in Coral Gables and that he was working a part-time job during the day.

Residents heard the gunshots Thursday shortly after midnight. Police found Ceruto’s body on Northwest Fifth Avenue between 53rd and 54th streets at 3 a.m.

“We have very little information in this case. The people that are responsible for this need to be caught,” said Miami police Detective Luis Sanchez.

Police say the only evidence is a video obtained from a nearby grocery store in which Ceruto is seen wearing the missing gold chain, partially hidden by his shirt. The video was taken at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 30 minutes before gunshots were heard.

Ceruto was found wearing a black-and-white Bob Marley T-shirt and green University of Miami sweatpants.

That residents in the neighborhood of Northwest 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue, where Ceruto was killed, would clam up comes as no surprise to police. Ceruto’s shooting death was the third within a three-block area there in the past 10 days.

Last week two Northwestern High School students were gunned down one block and three days apart. Wednesday, police arrested Everton Demetrius Ramsay for the Sept. 7 shooting death of 17-year-old Maurice Harris on Northwest 54th Street and Third Avenue. Three days later Northwestern student Randall Dwaine Robinson III was shot to death on Northwest 53rd Street and Third Avenue. That crime hasn’t been solved.

Police said Ceruto, 44, had been arrested in the past for minor crimes like petty theft, but nothing serious enough that would lead them to suspect he was involved in some type of foul play. He worked odd construction and cabinetry jobs to make ends meet. His most recent job was at a nearby tire center.

Friday, Ceruto’s family came to Miami from out of town to beg the community to help solve the murder of a man who by all accounts would give a needy person the last dollar in his wallet. They said they hadn’t spoken with him since June and that Ceruto has a 10-year-old daughter who lives with her mother in Broward County.

Jose Ceruto’s mother, Josefa Rodriguez, center, surrounded by family pleads with the public to come forward with any information they have about her son's death during a press conference at Miami police headquarters on Friday.

“This is obviously very shocking information for a family that is this close-knit,” said Susana Hernandez, one of Ceruto’s three sisters. He also has a brother. “What I remember is how kind he was. We love him and we miss him. All we want are answers.”