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Death of bodega owner shocks community

In the aftermath of tragedy, Bolivar Cruz will get his final wish. The storekeeper killed protecting his daughters when his South Ozone Park bodega was robbed last week was waked Monday, June 18 at James Romanelli-Stephen Funeral Home, but he will be buried in his native Dominican Republic. That, said his family, is exactly where Cruz would want to be.
“He always wanted to go home,” said daughter Jalissa, who celebrated her 17th birthday June 18 under solemn circumstances. “His mother is there, and his wish was to see her. So we’re giving him his last wish.”
Survived in the U.S. by seven daughters, common-law wife Nila Espinal, and a large extended family, Cruz’s mother and grown son, George, remained in the Dominican when Cruz emigrated in 1999. Ever since, said his daughters, he had wanted to return.
“I feel numb,” said Belkis Cruz-Seenath, 30, Bolivar’s oldest daughter. “I wish this wasn’t real.”
Most of Cruz’s family was dressed identically at the open-casket wake, in white tops and black pants. Such unity, said Cruz-Seenath, is the only way to survive the pain.
“We’re just trying to stick together as a family,” she said. “Just trying to hold up.”
“What I feel, my whole family feels,” said daughter Angelina, 24, who was in the store when the shooting occurred. “We go through it together.”
Angelina said she remembers little about the incident, other than three men running in and ordering her to get down on the floor, then hearing a shot.
“These men are not human,” she said of her father’s killers.
Cruz, along with his bodega, Kennedy Mini Market, located at 133-45 131st Street, had come to personify the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“If somebody was hungry and didn’t have money, they wouldn’t leave hungry,” said Jose Diaz, 47, a friend of the Cruz family. “Bolivar always did favors.”
“I’d go in every Sunday before church, after church, sometimes even during church,” said friend and neighbor Mike Jones, 47. “If these greedy, selfish individuals had known what kind of guy Bolivar was, they wouldn’t even have bothered robbing him.”
But the fate of the store now appears grim, as a community and family tries to pick up the pieces of a shattered life.
“As far as I know, we’re going to give up on the business,” said Cruz-Seenath, who worked in the store for four years. “After what happened, I know I, personally, don’t want any part of that.”
The wake, which ran from 1 to 9 p.m., saw friends and family file in and out all day. Some called for the men who killed Cruz to turn themselves in, while others simply mourned the loss of their loved one. Many family members, however, donned smiles, embraced each other, and laughed. The joy, said Angelina, was for the memories.
“You have to remember the good times to get through the bad times,” she said. “My father always had something to say to make someone smile. He never wanted to see someone looking too serious.”
“He did everything to protect us,” said daughter Adrianna, 9. “And the way he laughed made you want to have fun with him.”
The happy memories help, said Angelina, but they cannot erase the reality.
“It eases the pain a little,” she said, “but then you come back to the moment and realize he’s gone. I wish I could do the impossible to bring him back, but he’s gone forever.”
Cruz’s body was flown to the Dominican Tuesday, June 19, for a memorial and burial service.

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