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Gunshot victim a 'leader'

Heber's Hispanic community loses man who mediated on their behalf

Alma Armendariz, center, poses with a photograph of her late husband, Aniceto, and her children: 18-year-old Joel, left, 13-year-old Karevi, 18-year-old Josue and 21-year-old Hector. He and Alma were returning from Mass when he was shot.
Alma Armendariz, center, poses with a photograph of her late husband, Aniceto, and her children: 18-year-old Joel, left, 13-year-old Karevi, 18-year-old Josue and 21-year-old Hector. He and Alma were returning from Mass when he was shot.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

HEBER — For years, the Hispanic community of Summit and Wasatch counties looked to one couple to navigate through the bureaucracy of school districts, courts, local governments and health care.

Now, one-half of that couple is dead after a shooting Sunday night.

Aniceto Armendariz died Sunday night after two men fired at the truck Armendariz and his wife, Alma, were driving. One of two shotgun blasts hit Armendariz in the head and the truck he was driving rolled into a median on U.S. 40 near the Mayflower exit. The truck came to rest in lanes of oncoming traffic.

Armendariz, 43, died instantly, but Alma Armendariz was taken to a hospital, treated and released.

Police arrested a father and son — one near the scene of the crime and the other near the Stillwater Lodge at Jordanelle Reservoir. Antonio Palaez-Vasquez, 55, and Cunny A. Pelaez, 19, are being held in the Summit County Jail for investigation of aggravated homicide.

Investigators and Armendariz family members do not know what sparked the shooting, but Alma Armendariz believes her husband may have taught Pelaez in a driving school. She said she remembered his first name. A Wasatch County Sheriff's Office probable cause statement said the victim and one of the men arrested had been "associates . . . in a school setting."

The statement said that police found a 20-gauge shotgun near the scene of the accident, and that Pelaez identified it by describing the gun as one he had used before. Police said that Palaez-Vasquez was intoxicated, although it is unclear with what substance.

The Armendariz family had a stream of relatives and friends at their house Tuesday, and both Alma's and Aniceto's family members were traveling to Utah from Mexico this week. Children played on the house's front porch beneath two black ribbons someone had tied to the porch pillars. The scent of more than a dozen flower arrangements inside was overpowered only by the two full tables of food.

The Armendariz children talked quietly about their father with cousins and friends, occasionally breaking conversation to comfort a weeping relative or offer visitors water.

To Josue Armendariz, 18, it was inconceivable that anyone would harm his father, who was an example to his family and friends.

"I've always thought my dad was ahead of us because he was just such a great man, setting every pathway for us," Armendariz said. "He's in a good place because he was such a good man — too good to be in this corrupt world."

Aniceto Armendariz moved to Heber nearly 11 years ago with Alma and their four children. In the last decade, the Armendariz family has become a guide of sort for new immigrants, helping them traverse unfamiliar bureaucracy to receive medial treatment, driver's licenses and school registrations.

"This is a man who was a giant here in many, many ways," said the Rev. Bob Bussen, who was Armendariz's priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Park City. "He and his family were probably the lead Hispanic leaders for the Wasatch back."

Armendariz was a deacon at St. Mary's, a position that required approximately five years of training and an uncommon commitment to the church and community —he and Alma were returning from a Spanish-language mass at St. Mary's when he was shot. He also taught driving lessons and served as a liaison for the Hispanic community, helping to drive people to doctor's appointments, completing paperwork for a myriad of agencies, and being a friendly neighbor to all, Bussen said.

"He was an example to the community to show to the whole world that Mexicans come here not only to make trouble but to make a good life," Alma Armendariz said.

The family will hold a visitation service today at St. Mary's at 5 p.m., followed by a vigil at 7 p.m. Bussen will conduct the funeral mass Friday at 9:30 a.m., and Armendariz will be buried in a Heber cemetery.

Alma Armendariz gave her children the choice to bury their father close to home, or to send his body back to Mexico, which is a tradition in Hispanic communities. It was not a difficult decision for them, she said.

"He chose Heber to (raise) his children because it's a nice place. It has nice people. It's a nice community," she said. Their children decided to bury him in Heber because, "if they wanted to talk to him, they wanted him close to home."