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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

John Ramirez, 25, of Vineland, allegedly wielded a .357 revolver as he approached the porch

John Ramirez, 25, of Vineland, allegedly wielded a .357 revolver as he approached the porch and demanded money from Contreras and two friends. As they rifled through their pockets to comply, the gun went off. The bullet lodged in Contreras' head, killing him instantly, police say.Ramirez and his accomplice fled. Shortly thereafter, police found the gun in the street and Ramirez in a house around the corner on the 600 block of Montrose Street. They searched the house and found evidence they will not detail but that they said links Ramirez to the crime.The gun was not registered as stolen, but police have not determined who it belongs to.Investigators do not believe Ramirez had any connection to Contreras. The men lived more than two miles apart in the city, according to their last-known addresses, provided by police.As Ramirez sat Sunday night in the Cumberland County Jail on $750,000 bail, Contreras' friends continued the vigil they started shortly after the 43-year-old's violent death.Sunflowers, tulips and carnations surrounded a cluster of candles and a few photos of Contreras. His wide smile beamed from beneath a hard hat in one, and from a comfortable seat on a couch in another. Several large containers filled with $1, $5 and $10 bills - donations for his family - rounded out the memorial.Ramirez has told police he belongs to the Latin Kings street gang, which they already knew from previous dealings with him. Besides that, Ramirez refused to talk, Vineland police Lt. Thomas Ulrich said.

Ramirez's gang affiliation and aliases - "John John" and "King Bliss" among them - drew little reaction from older adults gathered there. Some scoffed that Ramirez is much like other kids today: They think they are gangsters, or they want to be, but aren't really.

Regardless of whether Ramirez, like others his age, has imagined or exaggerated his status within the criminal underworld, the gun was real. So was the bullet. And so are the charges: homicide, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, according to a statement from police.

Ramirez, who will turn 26 on Oct. 21, got out of prison in November 2008 after a seven-month stint for weapons possession, aggravated assault and loitering to distribute drugs, according to the state Department of Corrections Web site.

He also faces two counts of contempt of court for failing to appear for offenses police could not specify Sunday.

Ramirez wore a hospital gown in the booking photo provided by Vineland police. Police provided the gown after they took his clothing as part of the evidence for the case, Ulrich said.

Police got a call shortly before the shooting from a taxi driver in the area who had picked up a fare when two other people tried to get into his taxi. He would not let in the others - believed by police to be Ramirez and his accomplice - and immediately called police for help and to report what he said was an attempted robbery.

Police have not found Ramirez's accomplice. They described him as a Hispanic male clad in a gray sweatshirt.


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