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Belmont back to 'business as usual' after fatal shootout

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Flowers are placed on a sign on Fitzgerald’s Tires on Wednesday near where a person was recently shot and killed.

A shootout in broad daylight on Jan. 8 left one dead and another injured in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood, but other than a small memorial at the scene of the crime, visitors would struggle to find evidence that tragedy had visited the popular dining district.

And that’s by design.

“[Shootings] certainly seem like they’re happening more frequently in Charlottesville, which I think worries everyone, but I don’t think we respond to that by locking our doors and hiding away,” John Allen, restaurant manager at The Local, told The Daily Progress on Wednesday. “I think we respond by building stronger bonds of community, so that’s what I’ve been encouraging our staff to do.”

Patrons at the restaurant, which is feet away from the scene of the crime, said much of the same.

“I love to come to The Local a few times a week after I work out,” Charlottesville resident Mara Kennedy told The Daily Progress last Thursday while sitting at the bar in the restaurant’s full dining room. “I’m from Charlottesville and I moved back here more than 20 years ago, and nothing like this ever happens in Belmont.”

The Local and the other restaurants in “historic downtown Belmont” such as Belle, Con Mole, Mas, Mockingbird, Tavola and Southern Crescent were all open for business this week. Reservations are being booked, dining rooms are filling up and wait staff at more than one eatery on Monday told The Daily Progress it’s “business as usual.”

Be Just, a home goods store on Monticello Road sandwiched between the restaurants in Belmont, is also open.

A Be Just employee told The Daily Progress on Wednesday that a fellow team member watched from behind a locked door on Jan. 8 as police wrapped caution tape around the scene of the shooting in the parking lot of Fitzgerald’s Tires in front of the popular “I LOVE CHARLOTTESVILLE A LOT” mural.

According to Charlottesville police, Osvaldo Lopez-Hernandez of Texas was shot and killed in a shootout around 1:40 p.m. that day. Police made two arrests in connection with the crime: Jose Omar Rivas Sorto of Maryland, who has been charged with one count of shooting from a vehicle, and a second man identified only as John Doe, who was charged with felony abduction for financial benefit, felony use of a firearm and misdemeanor brandishing.

No additional details have been reported, and police say the investigation is ongoing. Police spokesman Kyle Ervin did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Progress.

“I think all of us here in the Belmont neighborhood just feel so grateful that no one was caught in the crossfire, because it’s a very active neighborhood and Sunday brunch time is particularly busy,” said the Be Just team member who asked not to be named. “After speaking to the police, our team still feels safe here.”

Be Just management made the decision to close the store early on Jan. 8, locking up around 2 p.m. instead of 5, according to the team member.

“We did make the decision to close early so that the team member who was working at the store could take care of herself and not have to stay at work after a very traumatizing event,” they said. “In the same vein, we closed on Monday just to give our team a moment to take in what had happened and be tender with themselves.“

Ali, a bartender at Mockingbird who preferred to only give her first name, said the restaurant staff there was preparing for the dinner shift when management sent them home on Jan. 8. After alerting the employees who were in the building, managers texted and called other staff to tell them that the restaurant was closing for the day.

About half of the staff was at The Local at the time of the shooting, also preparing for the dinner shift when management there made the decision to close the restaurant, according to Allen. He said he made about 30 calls to people who had reservations for that night to let them know that the restaurant was closing for the rest of the evening because of the shooting. He said he also made sure to alert future guests when Charlottesville police had made their arrests.

Allen said he attended a community memorial at Fitzgerald’s Tires this past Sunday, exactly one week after the shooting. By the end of the evening, he said, there were about 50 Charlottesville residents standing together, talking, drinking tea, trying to heal – but not locking their doors or hiding away.

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