As the wind picked up and heavy traffic passed by on Tuesday afternoon, about 10 people gathered together on a grassy hill near the intersection of 60th and L Streets. They bowed their heads and prayed for the 32-year-old man shot to death on Monday not too far from that corner, for his wife and three young children, for the community.
Police have not announced an arrest in the death of James Womack, who was driving a semitrailer truck for Hill Brothers Transportation on Monday afternoon when he was shot and killed.
Craig Kellerman told KMTV that he was driving near the intersection and saw what happened.
He said a man got out of the semi and walked up to a beige pickup to pound on the windows. The man yelled, “What’s your problem?”
“(He) said his piece and started walking back to his truck, and as soon as he turned around, from what I could tell, he got shot in the back three times,” Kellerman said. “He just kind of collapsed and rolled over. I was just scared for him.”
Raised in the borough of the Bronx in New York City, James E. Womack came to Omaha in 2008 because he wanted a good place to raise a family, his best friend said on Tuesday.
“All he cared about was his kids and his family,” said Jose Cardenas as he stood on the front porch stairs of Womack’s South Omaha home. “He came to Omaha because he wanted a better life for his wife and kids.”
Womack lived at the house near 39th and Q Streets with his wife, Ivonne, and three children, 9-year-old Jalessa, Jasmine — who turned 8 on Monday — and 3-year-old James Jr.
A fund has been set up on the GoFundMe site to help the family. Donations for the James Womack Memorial Fund will also be accepted at any American National Bank in Omaha or Council Bluffs.
Hill Brothers released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying Womack had worked for the company for more than four years. “We will miss his friendly face and that big smile,” the statement said.
Cardenas said Womack’s father is a truck driver in New York. “He told me that he always wanted to drive a truck like his dad,” he said.
Cardenas met Womack in Army boot camp in 2003. Womack, who was a staff sergeant in transportation, served three tours of duty in Iraq, including two with Cardenas.
“He was always asking me about Omaha,” Cardenas said. “He wanted to know if we had good schools and whether it was a good place to have kids.”
Both men mustered out in 2007, but both were recalled for Individual Ready Reserve a year later. IRR members typically receive no pay and are not obligated to drill, conduct annual training or participate in any military activities, except for periodic muster activities. They can be activated by presidential reserve call-up authority.
“James was proud to serve in the military,” Cardenas said. “Even afterward, every day of his life was structured like in the military. He went to church every Sunday at St. Joseph’s (Catholic Church) and he worked nights so he could take his kids to school.”
Womack and his wife knew each other from high school. He sent for her while stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington and the two were married in a private ceremony, Cardenas said.
“She was Catholic, so James took classes every day for a year so they could go back to New York and get married (in the Catholic Church),” said Cardenas, who was the best man at the church wedding. “James took his religion very seriously and never missed church.”
Womack always was looking for ways to engage his kids. He anchored four large planters behind their home, one for each of his children to grow whatever they liked and one for himself and Ivonne.
The planters are ringed with old tires and rocks that are colorfully painted. The foundation of the house behind the planters is adorned with butterflies, hearts, ladybugs and stars.
Standing on the outside of the prayer circle on Tuesday, Dave Wesson stood with his head bowed, clutching a small red, white and blue bouquet of cloth flowers. Earlier on Tuesday, he’d heard about the death of his former co-worker and friend.
Wesson had worked with Womack at Hawkins Construction for about six months in 2013. They’d lost touch but he had just been wondering about Womack — the guy who was always joking around, the guy who would proudly talk of his growing family, even showing off the ultrasound photos of his son.
“He was just one of those guys you were blessed to know,” Wesson said after placing the flowers in the ground on the intersection. “For everyone who passes this corner, I want them to know that a good man died here — a veteran, a patriot, a family man.”
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