MAITLAND, Fla. – Neighbors knew him as a simple man who worked in the paint department of a home-supply store and spent his leisure time tending to the yard of his ranch-style home in this Orlando suburb.
Many could not reconcile that image with the one authorities painted Wednesday of Rigoberto Alpizar — that of a desperate man who ran off a plane and claimed to have a bomb in his backpack. Alpizar was shot and killed by air marshals Wednesday at Miami International Airport on his way home from a trip to South America.
"He was a nice guy, always smiling, always talkative," said Louis Gunther, a neighbor who said he was watching Alpizar's home while he and his wife were on a missionary trip. "Everybody is talking about a guy I know nothing about."
"This whole neighborhood is shocked. ... Totally uncharacteristic of the guy," added Alex McLeod, 16, who lives three houses down on the opposite side of the three-lined street from the Alpizars.
No one answered the door Wednesday evening at the couple's modest, four-bedroom house. A car was in the driveway, and television crews milled about. Many neighbors did not want to talk about the incident. Those who did were stunned, as were Alpizar's relatives.
"We're all still in shock. We're just speechless," said his sister-in-law, Kelley Beuchner, in a telephone interview from her home in Milwaukee.
Alpizar arrived in Miami from Quito, Ecuador, earlier Wednesday, said Rick Thomas, the federal security director at Miami International. Relatives said Alpizar and his wife were returning from a trip to Peru.
Alpizar's brother-in-law, Steven Beuchner, said he was a native of Costa Rica, and met his sister, Anne, when she was an exchange student there. Relatives said the couple had been married about 22 years.
"Rigo was a very quiet guy," said Charles Baez, 33, who said he was Alpizar's boss at MAB Paint Store in Winter Park until Alpizar left for a job at Home Depot three years ago. "It's very strange that he would ever do anything like this. ... You never know what people go through, but he always seemed really normal to me."
Home Depot Inc. spokesman Don Harrison said he had no information about whether Alpizar worked for the home improvement chain.