SUMMIT, N.J. – Dusk fell around Salvadoran immigrant Abelino Mazaniego as he sat on a bench on a promenade in an upscale New York suburb after finishing his restaurant shift. As night encroached, so did a group of teenagers, including one with a cell phone videocamera at the ready.
Then, authorities say, they beat him unconscious, with the camera rolling.
Days later, the 47-year-old father of four was dead — but not before the video had been circulated among teenagers in Summit, N.J., authorities say. And not before a nurse in the emergency room where he was taken the night of July 17 was accused of pilfering several hundred dollars from his wallet.
The attacks on Mazaniego's body and dignity resulted in days of escalating court actions that culminated Tuesday in murder charges against three young men, ages 17, 18 and 19. A fourth teenager believed to have videotaped the attack hasn't been charged, but authorities weren't divulging details on the teen's involvement or potential culpability.
In Summit on Tuesday evening, a young girl sobbed, trembled, and clutched the waist of an older woman as they stood in a group of five people in front of a shrine of sunflowers, votive prayer candles, handwritten notes and a photo of Mazaniego that had been placed on the bench where he was attacked. Speaking quietly in Spanish, a woman with red-rimmed eyes said she was Mazaniego's wife of 29 years, and the rest were family members. She declined to give her name, saying she was too upset and scared to speak about the attack.
Mazaniego was "a hardworking, punctual, friendly employee," said Colin Crasto, manager and chef at Dabbawalla Indian restaurant, across the street from where the attack took place, and where the victim had worked for three years as a cook's assistant. A photo of Mazaniego was taped to the front window, with a message saying he had been the sole supporter of his family and asking patrons to donate money to help his family.
Along Summit's main thoroughfare, a place of upscale clothing and jewelry stores, real-estate brokerages advertising million-dollar homes, and luxury SUVS parked along the street, merchants and residents said the attack was an anomaly for the town, a vibrant mix of nationalities that considers itself welcoming of immigrants.
"I know bad things happen all the time, everywhere, but it's unusual here," said Neil Rodriguez, the manager of The Wine List, who knew Mazaniego, as he worked a few doors down. Recalling Mazaniego as a "genial, really nice gentlemen," Rodriguez said that, as a Hispanic, he was bothered that the incident was being portrayed by some as racially motivated.
"It's a random act of violence, there's not a lot of racial strife in this town," he said. "I'd like to see the parents that produced such monsters," he added, referring to the alleged attackers.
Khayri Williams-Clark, 18, and an unidentified 17-year-old, both of Summit, were arrested Wednesday on manslaughter charges. Williams-Clark pleaded not guilty to the charge Friday.
Now they're charged with murder, along with Nigel Dumas, 19, of Morristown. A spokesman for the public defender's office, which is representing Williams-Clark and the 17-year-old, declined to comment Tuesday and said the office hadn't yet received an application to represent Dumas.
The 17-year-old is being held in the Union County juvenile detention center, while Williams-Clark is being held at the Union County jail on $100,000 bail, prosecutors said. Bail for Dumas, at the same jail, has been set at $250,000. Authorities wouldn't say how many teens were in the group or whether there would be more charges. They also weren't discussing theories on the motive for the beating — whether it was Mazaniego's background, a thrill killing or some other reason.
But it apparently wasn't an attempt to get the $640 in cash that Mazaniego was carrying.
Police found the victim after the beating and took him to the hospital, where, officials say, nurse Stephan Randolph, 39, of Flemington, took the money out of the unconscious victim's wallet.
Family members noticed the missing money and told authorities, who charged Randolph with third-degree theft Monday, six days after Mazaniego died.
Randolph could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press this week; a phone listed in his name rang unanswered.