Dangerous Liaisons

Police may never know for sure how a young gay man ended up shot to death in a field off Bird Road. But they have a theory: Cruising can kill.

Abreu and Raul Jimenez, another former South Miami High student who works as an insurance underwriter, gave sworn statements as well, in which they portrayed Rivera as almost obsessive about informing anyone who would listen that he had shot someone, but they weren't very helpful when it came to when, how, or why. It was apparently no secret, however, that Rivera and Shoemaker were hard-pressed to support their child: They were at least a month behind on the rent on their SW 78th Court apartment, according to records prosecutors later obtained. (None of the witnesses made more than a passing mention of Shoemaker in their sworn statements, and none implied she had anything to do with the murder.)

Rivera allegedly told his three friends that Barrera had provoked him into a fight, that they had walked to the field together, and that he drew his gun after Barrera pulled a knife on him (though no knife was found at the scene). Other details varied according to the witness. Abreu recalled Rivera saying he ordered the victim to his knees and warned him, while robbing him, not to look at his face (this, presumably, after several minutes of face-to-face conversation). When Barrera looked, Abreu said, Rivera shot.

The statements also detailed Rivera's elaborate tattoos, including a devil that covered almost his entire back, a pentagram on one of his palms, and a hanged priest on one of his calves. But none mentioned what police subsequently concluded: that Rivera was a "Satanic worshipper," in the words of McManus's October 2 petition for an arrest warrant. By then Rivera was in New York, where many of his relatives live.

It had been Chubby Ormaza, McManus learned, who had called 911 the morning after the body, unbeknownst to him, was found. "I felt as if they weren't going to find it," he explained in his statement. "Poor guy, I guess. He has family going crazy looking for him."

The youngest of six children born in Cuba to parents who emigrated in the Mariel boatlift, Onay Barrera was a waiter. He kept his tips but gave all his paychecks to his mother to help pay for groceries and the rent on their house on SW 42nd Street. Since his mid-teens, Barrera had worked at least one job, sometimes two or three. He dropped out of Coral Gables High in the tenth grade. "Onay always had a job," recalls his friend Coleman Bell. "Such a young man, to work so hard."

His friends say Barrera didn't have lofty ambitions, that he was content to be a waiter and proud of his competence. Snapshots taken a month before his death show him at work at the Chez Vendome Restaurant in the David William Hotel on Miracle Mile. Tall and thin, his black hair cut short, Barrera looked elegant in his black tie and vest.

"Onay was one of the best [waiters]," says Ana Maria Martinez, a former Chez Vendome bartender with whom Barrera shared what was probably his last meal. "He was always so neat, so clean, so handsome. Let me tell you, he was always happy, dancing. Onay was in love with life. Sometimes I would come to work, I had a lot of things on my mind -- I'm a single mother -- and Onay, he would say, 'Anita, I don't like to see you like this. Come on, let's dance.'"

On Friday evening, August 25, Barrera visited Martinez at the hotel. He'd been laid off a few weeks earlier but quickly found another job at an International House of Pancakes near his house. He told Martinez with a marked lack of enthusiasm that he had to be at work the next morning at 7:30.

While Martinez worked, Barrera sat at the end of the elegant bar, wearing an oversize striped jersey, jeans, and sneakers. They talked and ate dinner -- broiled chicken, French fries, and Coke. At about 8:30, he called his boyfriend, seventeen-year-old Orlando Atencia, who was angry because Barrera planned to go out drinking with another friend, Billy Davis.

After talking with Atencia, Martinez recalls, Barrera changed his mind about going out and tried unsuccessfully to beep Davis. He left the David William at about 9:30; Martinez assumes he walked a few blocks east to Le Jeune Road to catch the bus home.

Meanwhile, Davis was trying to phone Barrera from the adult bookstore on Bird, where they'd first met more than five years earlier when Davis was sixteen, Barrera fifteen. At about 9:30, the clerk told him he couldn't use the phone inside any more, and Davis stepped out into the back alley, where he saw a young man in a baseball cap sitting on a black bike and waiting by the pay phone. When he saw Davis, he picked up the receiver and began dialing. "I noticed he didn't put any money in -- something about him just didn't look right," Davis recalls. "The thing I remember about him was his eyes. He was looking at me very intently. I saw tattoos on both arms."

The tattooed man hung up the phone and started off on his bike, and Davis headed across the street to catch a bus to O'Zone, the South Miami club where he and Onay had planned to meet up with friends. The group stayed at the club into the early morning hours, but Barrera never showed up.

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