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Tuesday, 26 January 2016 12:19

As Beloit police search for a killer, a family and community grieve over death of 5-year-old

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Austin's sister, Alyssa Martinez, and grandmother, Lesvia Tovar-Martinez, at the vigil Jan. 24, 2016 for Austin Ramos Jr. who was shot and killed two days earlier. Austin's sister, Alyssa Martinez, and grandmother, Lesvia Tovar-Martinez, at the vigil Jan. 24, 2016 for Austin Ramos Jr. who was shot and killed two days earlier. Dan Plutchak/staff

BELOIT -- While police continued their search last week for the killer of a 5-year-old town of Beloit boy, the community grappled with the shocking and senseless killing.

Austin Ramos Jr. was shot and killed about 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Shopiere Road in Beloit, according to interim Police Chief Dave Zibolski.

A gunman pulled alongside the car Austin's father was driving and opened fire, striking Austin in the abdomen while he sat strapped into his car seat.

Community members rallied around the grieving family last Sunday night for a candlelight vigil at the intersection where Austin died two days earlier.

(Complete coverage HERE. Social media coverage HERE. Video HERE.)

Justin Bender was among the more than 200 people at the vigil organized by Lighthouse Fellowship Church.

(Photos: Beloit vigil for a slain 5-year-old HERE.)

His family is friends with Austin's, and Bender said he has a 5-year-old son of his own.

"We were over at their house all the time for birthday parties and things. I just can't believe it," Bender said.

Many others attended, even without knowing Austin or his family.

Beloit resident Venester Brown said the community needs to band together and be with each other no matter what.

"We need to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them," she said. "As a human it really affects you, no matter what color or who they are. It's a baby. He didn't even have a chance."

Lavar Davis was among many younger residents at the vigil.

"This is ridiculous. A 5-year-old didn't get to see the age of 10 or 11. Didn't get a chance to explore. I feel bad," he said.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church pastor Michael Ramsdail led the vigil and spoke as members of Austin's family sat among friends and wept. VIDEO

Austin's sister, Alyssa Martinez, his grandmother, Lesvia Tovar-Martinez, and great aunt Virginia Coronado held balloons, candles and hugged.

He urged those in attendance to reject the culture that protects those guilty of crimes.

"If you know something, say something," Ramsdail said. "I'm a lifelong Beloiter, and the last time I checked, we didn't give anyone the right to murder our babies.

Speakers included community leaders from the religious community and school district as well Zibolski, who vowed to bring justice for Austin.

"There are individuals in this community who know who took Austin from us," Zibolski said.

City Manager Lori Curtis-Luther said also gave her commitment to find Austin's killer. VIDEO

"We're listening now perhaps in a way that we haven't sufficiently done before, and I promise we will work together to solve this case," she said.

She also echoed many of the other speakers when she said, ""If anything good can possibly come from this, let his life create a change in our city that lets us collectively say, 'No more.'"

Details remain sketchy from the night of the shooting.

Police are looking for a maroon SUV, a late 90s or early 2000s model, that was apparently following Austin's car before pulling along side and opening fire.

Austin's father was uninjured.

The vigil closed with song, and as those who attended raised their candles high, Ramsdail reminded them of the power of what can be done if everyone works together.

A GoFundMe.org page has been set up for the Ramos family. As of Sunday night, it raised more than $16,000.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Beloit Police Department at 608-364-6800.

https://www.gofundme.com/evkwzyac

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