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Rafael Rodriguez

In Memoriam Condolences

Rafael Rodriguez In Memoriam
It was unusually quiet for a Monday afternoon outside Josephine's Italian Restaurant, one of dozens of eateries along bustling Federal Highway in Boca Raton.

The parking lot was empty - only news trucks occupied the spaces near the restaurant's entrance - and not a single table or chair was in place in the usually quaint outdoor patio.

Instead, dozens of flower bundles, candles and handwritten messages that read "We will miss you" were placed at the restaurant's doorstep, in honor of bartender Rafael Rodriguez, 46, who was shot and killed Friday night in a robbery at the restaurant.

All day Monday, restaurant regulars stopped by the establishment to pay their respects. While a couple people drove by to see if the restaurant was open for dinner, most came to honor Rodriguez.

One person left two dozen yellow roses in a glass vase, and another glued a photograph of Jesus to a candle holder and wrote "we will miss you."

Near the parking lot, a small poster with photos of Rodriguez fishing was anchored to the grass. Nearby, a single red rose was placed on the ground with an envelope addressed to Josephine Tribunella, the restaurant's owner and Rodriguez's girlfriend.

Boca Raton police say Rodriguez, a commercial Realtor who had just begun to learn tennis, was shot once during the robbery Friday night. He died at Delray Medical Center.

Josephine's, located on in the 5700 block of Federal Highway, closed at 10 p.m. Friday. Tribunella, several employees and some patrons remained.

Police said Rodriguez and a waiter had exited the back door when four men accosted them. Rodriguez and the waiter were knocked to the ground and the waiter was pistol-whipped, according to police.

One or two of the men, who wore masks or facial coverings, stood guard while others entered the restaurant. The men were armed with revolvers and handguns, police said.

The suspects approached other victims, who were sitting in the bar area, and took personal items like wallets, jewelry and cellphones. As the robbers were leaving, Rodriguez exchanged words with one of them. The man fired at Rodriguez, striking him once, police said.

The robbers fled through the back door. The waiter, who has not been identified, was released from the hospital Saturday.

Meanwhile, employees and owners of nearby businesses expressed their concern that a similar incident could happen to them.

Jeff Zeikowitz, owner of Super Printers, a printing company located about one mile north of Josephine's, said he's worried that the suspects could rob similar eateries, such as Renzo's of Boca, another Italian eatery located next to his store.

"That was the first thing that popped into my mind, wow we have a restaurant right next door to us," said Zeikowitz, who added that in his two decades as a business owner in Boca Raton, he's never felt in danger.

"I wouldn't say it's an unsafe area. I've been here for almost 22 years without an incident," he added.

But Victor Stallone, 62 of Deerfield Beach, who works at his wife's Stop & Shop convenience store near Josephine's, said Rodriguez's death made him decide to close a couple hours early from now on.

"I told my wife I won't stay here after 8 p.m.," he said. "I know I'm going to lose business, I know we are going to lose customers, but I'm going to put my life ahead of that."

Stallone, who was not at the store when the robbery took place, said he checked his security cameras the next day to see if the robbers had tried to break into his store. He found nothing suspicious.

Stallone added that he often feels afraid when he leaves work at night because nearby streets are dark and police are not around all the time.

"It seems like they only come around when you call them, and most of the time it's a little late," he added.

Police said Monday they are still searching for the four suspects, and had no additional details as to why Rodriguez was the only person shot.

The first suspect was described as a tall, thin black male, who was wearing a long sleeved shirt, plants, a baseball cap a backpack and a mask. He was carrying a black revolver.

The second suspect, also a thin black male, was wearing shorts below the knee, a hood and a mask. He carried a backpack and a handgun.

The third suspect, a medium-built black man, was wearing plants, a short sleeved shirt, a bandanna and a ball cap. He also carried a handgun.

The fourth suspect, a black male, was wearing a long sleeved dark shirt, shorts below the knee, and had a light shirt or scarf covering his face.

If anyone has information, they are asked to call the Boca Raton Police Department at (561) 368-6201 or Palm Beach County Crimestoppers at (800) 458-TIPS.
Published in The Palm Beach Post from Jan. 8 to Feb. 7, 2013
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