Police: Killers target immigrants
TIFTON, Georgia (AP) -- Efrain Navarro woke at 1:30 a.m. to the sound of loud groans, as if someone were hurt.
Then, listening through his bedroom door in the dark, he heard men inside his mobile home speaking English -- an unusual sound, given that he lived with two roommates who speak Spanish.
Navarro sprinted through the darkness for the front door, barely seeing the outline of one of his roommates sprawled on the floor. After hearing two gunshots, Navarro said, he hid in his truck until daylight Friday.
That's when Navarro and residents of three nearby trailer parks discovered shockingly similar crimes. Five people, including one of Navarro's roommates, had been brutally slain in their homes. Six more were wounded, one critically. (Watch police hunt for clues -- 1:20)
The dead were all Mexican immigrants. All lived in mobile homes in Tift County and neighboring Colquitt County, rural areas where migrant workers toil on cotton and peanut farms. Some of the victims were beaten with an aluminum baseball bat found at one of the scenes, and at least one victim was shot, police said.
Two suspects were being sought. Investigators believe the killers targeted Hispanic immigrants in the string of overnight robberies about 180 miles south of Atlanta.
"We think they're tied together," said Colquitt County Sheriff's Capt. Hal Suber.
All but one of the dead belonged to the same family, said Francisco Dominguez, who says his uncle and a cousin were killed in their trailer on the outskirts of Tifton.
"He came here to work and here is where he died," Dominguez said of his uncle, who moved to the United States last year. "He should have gone out to build chicken houses this morning."
Colquitt County Sheriff Al Whittington stressed that the attacks didn't appear to be hate crimes. Many immigrants are undocumented and therefore can't open bank accounts, which means they tend to carry a lot of cash or keep it in their homes.
"That makes them an easy prey," Whittington said. "I don't think it has anything to do with race or hate."
He also said there have been other robberies of immigrants in the past two weeks, including some in neighboring Cook County.
Hispanics in the area fear being targeted.
"They're panicking," said Luz Marti, a volunteer with Our Divine Saviour Church in Tifton. She added that the counties where the attacks took place are home to at least 14,000 immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
And, she said, a lack of Spanish-language media beyond La Estrella del Sur, a newspaper printed twice a month, makes the community especially jittery.
Navarro, a Mexican immigrant who spoke through an interpreter, said he never even saw the people who broke into his home.
"I heard them speaking in English, so I couldn't understand anything," he said in Spanish. "I opened the door and looked both ways and didn't see anything, so I ran out as fast as I could."
At Town & Country Mobile Homes in Tifton, a 14-year-old boy found two bodies -- one behind a trash can and the other out in the open.
Neighbors said they didn't hear any gunshots or notice a struggle during the night.
"All I heard last night was the dog barking too much," Margarito Castillo said. "We're used to having the dog bark because there is always strangers walking up and down the street. So we didn't pay much attention to that."
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