A beloved grandfather from Long Island, N.Y., was shot to death Wednesday on the streets of Haiti's capital in what officials believe is the first casualty of an American involved in Haitian relief efforts, FoxNews.com has learned.
Jowel Vieux, 62, immigrated to the United States in the 1970s but still maintained a home and small auto shop in Port-au-Prince, where many of his family members remained. He flew to Haiti on Jan. 24, against the urging of family members worried about his safety.
He hoped to salvage what he could from his properties, which were completely destroyed, and to help search for missing family members, and he wanted to assist in the overall recovery efforts in the country he loved, his family said.
He was wrapping caution tape around the rubble that once was his home Wednesday when he was shot in the back multiple times by a group of men, family members said. U.S. Marines who were in the neighborhood followed the sound of gunshots and found Vieux lying in the street in front of his home and pronounced him dead.
The reason for the killing is unclear, and authorities contacted for this story wouldn't comment on possible motives.
“This is the kindest man, and he was just murdered,” Vieux's daughter-in-law, Jasmine Vieux, told FoxNews.com.
Jowel Vieux, a prostate cancer survivor from Roosevelt, N.Y., leaves behind his wife, three children and nine grandchildren.
“While it is possible that some incidents, particularly among Haitian-American dual nationals living in Haiti, may not have been reported to the U.S. embassy, an initial review of our consular records indicates that we have no reports of other, non-earthquake-related deaths in the category you describe,” U.S. State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said in an e-mailed statement.
Luoma-Overstreet was unable to confirm the details of Vieux’s death provided to FoxNews.com by the family.
Vieux had been in Haiti for several weeks doing what he could for the country. When he first arrived, he and his brother helped recover the body his 15-year-old cousin, who had died in the earthquake but was still trapped beneath tons of debris. They buried her in a grave dug on the family’s land.
"Her father and siblings were helpless until my father arrived,” Jasmine Vieux, 33, said. “He was just hell-bent on going back to Haiti. He never thought there was a threat.”
Her father-in-law's small auto parts business in Haiti was barely solvent, but he was so devoted to his country he refused to close up shop, she said.
“Despite the political chaos and controversy and everything else, even before the earthquake, he believed in Haiti as a country, he believed that Haiti could be great,” she said.
He recruited Haitians looking for food and money to work for him daily and he also regularly gave food and money to many, many others, family said.
“He was not only helping himself, he was helping everybody else,” Jasmine Vieux said.“That’s the thing, if the people who killed him, if they’d asked, if they just would’ve asked, he would’ve given them anything they wanted. They didn’t have to kill him.”
Now she says the family is trying to go through the red tape involved in flying Vieux’s body back to New York. Family members who flew to Haiti after his death have a meeting scheduled with embassy officials Friday. They hope to fly him home next week, if they can raise the $7,000 they need for transportation and the funeral.
“We have been in contact with Mr. Vieux’s widow," State Department spokesman Luoma-Overstreet said. "We extend our condolences to her and the family of Mr. Vieux. Our embassy in Port-au-Prince is providing them all appropriate consular assistance."