Thursday, December 08, 2005

Neighbors, family stunned by Alpizar's violent death

Henry Pierson Curtis and Willoughby Mariano
Sun-Sentinel Staff Writers

Maitland man is remembered as a loving husband who 'was always nice.'

MAITLAND - They called him Rigo, speaking in whispers and shock outside a Maitland home illuminated Wednesday night by television lights and sudden national attention.

To neighbors, he was a jogger, an immigrant, a bicyclist, a loving husband. He was the paint guy at The Home Depot, the man who always waved hello.

And to the frightened woman talking through a mail slot in a red door, Rigo was her "darling son-in-law." She slid out his photograph, showing a smiling Rigoberto Alpizar against a star-filled background.

In the hours after Alpizar's name flashed across televisions and computer screens, friends, neighbors, and family members struggled to understand how someone so nice could be the same man who authorities said claimed to have a bomb at Miami International Airport.

"I can tell you he was very proud to be living in America," said brother-in-law Bradley Jentsch in Sheboygan, Wis. "He was a very loving husband," said Jentsch. "He loved to read and he taught himself English by reading."

Alpizar moved to the U.S. about 20 years ago after growing up on a farm near Golfito on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, according to his in-laws.

"He was very, very proud to become an American citizen and to vote," said Jentsch.

He and Anne Buechner, his wife of more than 18 years, regularly jogged and rode bicycles together through their Maitland neighborhood.

"He always said, 'Hi, how is your day?" said Alex McLeod, 16. "He was always nice."

Reports from the Miami airport shortly after the killing that described Alpizar as mentally ill left longtime neighbor Louis Gunther doubting media accounts. The friend he knew never showed any signs of a mental illness or aggression toward anyone.

An Orlando-area resident for more than 10 years, Alpizar worked at Home Depot on Colonial Drive near Semoran Boulevard, neighbors said. Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison said he could not confirm if Alpizar worked for the company.

Alpizar and his wife bought their four-bedroom house in 1998 on Gillis Court, where houses now sell for $250,000 and up. They had no children.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Alpizar and his wife left on a trip sponsored by their church to work with children in South America, said Gunther, who was taking care of their house while they were gone.

The couple first met in Costa Rica when Buechner, a social worker, was working in Central America. They regularly returned in recent years to his childhood home after the death of his mother to spend time with his aging father, relatives said.

The widow's siblings, including brother Steven Buechner of Milwaukee, had not been able to speak to her by Wednesday evening.

"Rigo was a loving, caring and gentle husband, uncle, brother, son and friend. He was born in Costa Rica and became a proud American citizen several years ago. He will be missed by all who knew him," Alpizar's sister-in-law, Jeanne Jentsch said.

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