Andrea Kruger, 33, was murdered after she closed up the bar she worked at
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Omaha residents are used to news reports peppered with details of drive-by shootings and gang- or drug-related killings, as the state's largest city comprises roughly 80 percent of Nebraska homicides in any given year. But a recent spate of random, violent killings have stood out. "It hits close to home," said Hollie Gano, 36, a convenience store clerk who said she moved to west Omaha from Arizona several years ago, in part, because she believed Omaha was safer. "Sometimes in this job, I don't leave until 3 o'clock in the morning. Now, that seems a lot scarier than it had before."
The cases include the killings in May of Creighton University professor Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary, in what police say was the work of a serial killer bent on revenge. In June, 93-year-old Louise Sollowin was raped and beaten to death in the house she had occupied for more than 70 years. Earlier this month, the body of 19-year-old Melissa Rodriguez was found in a freshly dug cemetery grave meant for another unrelated homicide victim. And on Wednesday, 33-year-old Andrea Kruger, a mother of three, never made it home from her work as a bartender. She was found shot to death in a suburban Omaha intersection, her vehicle apparently stolen.
"What makes these unusual is ... they're not who we think of as the typical homicide victim," said Ryan Spohn, the director of the Consortium for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "The typical homicide victim should be somebody who was mixed up in gangs, or the trade of illegal guns, or somebody that we would see as the 'normal' face of a homicide victim. A Creighton professor doesn't fit that profile. A mother of three doesn't fit that profile."
The violence inflicted in the recent cases also sets them apart. The Brumbacks were stabbed repeatedly in the neck, with knives taken from their own kitchen. A former doctor, Anthony Garcia, who was fired from Creighton's pathology residency program has been charged in their deaths, as well as the deaths five years earlier of the 11-year-old son and housekeeper of another Creighton professor.
Police said Sergio Martinez-Perez, the man charged with breaking into Sollowin's home and attacking her, told investigators he did so because he "was angry with women." Rodriguez's boyfriend, Mikael Loyd, is charged with strangling her and dumping her body in the open grave the same day he was released from a mental health center. Police said he told investigators she reminded him of his mother. Authorities have no suspects in Kruger's killing.
The number of unusual cases, too, is odd, Spohn said. "It seems like we're still trying to figure out the major details from one murder when we have another high-profile case," he said. "This summer, it's just been one after another, after another, after another." Omaha has seen 32 homicides so far this year, not counting Kruger's, who was shot just outside of Omaha's city limits. That's up from 23 homicides by Aug. 23, 2012.
The jump could be a one-time spike, Spohn said. Those who track crime trends would wait until the end of the year to see if there is an overall increase, and would then have to see an increase in each of the next few years to declare a trend, he said. Law enforcement officials are reluctant to label the recent killings as unusual, but Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning acknowledged Friday that the killings, culminating in Kruger's slaying this week, has left the public fearful "because there is a killer on the loose."
"I don't know that there is a 'normal' homicide," Dunning said. "We're talking about the acts of nonconformists, and they don't do things 'normal.' Normal people don't kill other people." Gano works at a convenience store less than a mile from where Kruger's was killed, apparently while she was driving home after closing up a west Omaha night club where she worked. "I've worked as a bartender, too, and I've been the last person there, closing up," Gano said. "This just puts a whole new light on it for me."
But what constitutes an "unusual" killing, even for residents, is relative. Ask Jared Richardson, a 26-year-old Marine reservist who served back-to-back tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Unusual?" he replied when asked about the recent killings. "After what I've seen? I'm not sure anything's unusual anymore."
Hundreds of mourners gathered Monday, friends and family of Andrea Kruger, to pay their last respects. Andrea was shot to death at 168th and Fort last week and her killer remains at large. Kruger's funeral was held Monday morning at StoneBridge Christian Church. Cathy Hammer, a friend of Andrea's told us, "We knew her from a bar that she worked at. We frequented the bar a lot and she always just super kind and pleasant and smiled just constantly - just constantly. And just such a, such a happy person."
Andrea Kruger had left her job at Deja Vu lounge near 178th and Pacific early last Wednesday morning. She was on her way home when she was murdered. Investigators are still hunting for clues in the case. A memorial fund has been set up in Andrea Kruger's name at Union Bank and Trust.
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