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A long life deserves better than this

You live a long life, work and raise a family, survive change and hurricanes and the making of history over and over again.

You push past 80 and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You live your life even when it sometimes aches, after all those years. You persevere, and it seems like after so long, there should be some kind of peace in that.

And two men, young and violent, can come in the night and take it away.

Over the years Juan Rodriguez sometimes held three jobs while his wife, Ocilia, tended their six children. At 86, he was leaving his home at 2 a.m. for his shift as a maintenance man. That is the kind of person they preyed on that night, the man they pushed inside and bound with duct tape in front of his wife.

The police report lists what the men stole, her jewelry and their life savings hidden away in a small safe. It doesn't list what else they took.

Maybe you can't say they killed her, only that they made a strong woman who they pushed down and robbed feel, at the age of 81, that the world was no longer safe.

As the Times' Jessica Vander Velde reported, Mrs. Rodriguez had a stroke a week after the March 17 robbery, then another, and this week she was gone.

You hear about places that celebrate their oldest citizens. Here we pass laws to protect them against abuse, neglect, exploitation and predators, who steal anything they have left, even their well-being.

A friend told me about an elderly neighbor who lived alone and spent her days tending roses around her mailbox. One day a man came up and said something lewd, and soon after, she went to live in a home with other elderly people.

Maybe like me you think what happened to the Rodriguezes is an outrage that makes you want the men who did this — when they are caught — to be charged with everything possible.

If someone dies of a heart attack during a robbery, if a punch thrown in a fight lands wrong and kills someone, it could be manslaughter, even though the person who did it never meant to kill anyone.

That's not likely here. Mrs. Rodriguez had other health problems, and her stroke came a week after the robbery. Who knows what the grand plan was for her.

And stealing someone's peace of mind is not a crime.

I didn't know Mrs. Rodriguez, but she was born and raised here, covering the walls of her home with pictures of her children and then their children and then theirs. I was thinking as I drove to work that she didn't live long enough to see one of the best things about living here, the jacaranda trees spread across neighborhoods rich and poor, suddenly brilliantly blooming purple.

I am told by someone with the years to know that a good thing about getting older is looking into the faces of grandchildren as they grow up and seeing traces of your own parents, aunts and uncles. The youngest in Mrs. Rodriguez's family don't get any more time to know her and carry her with them.

Her husband now has to figure out how to go on without the person who has been beside him longer than many of us have been alive. Another loss you can't fit in a police report.

One day police will charge someone with what happened to an elderly couple living their lives out on a quiet street in Tampa. It just won't be the real crime that happened to them.

A long life deserves better than this 04/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 7:08pm]
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