Pedro Lopez Ruiz was unloading a chicken dinner from his car when he spotted the unfamiliar black Chevrolet Blazer pull onto Wildflower Lane.
His 4-year-old daughter behind him, he watched the SUV drive the length of his short cul-de-sac lined with a few mobile homes. The Blazer turned around and crept back toward Ruiz.
Two men in hooded sweatshirts stepped out, one pointing a gun. Ruiz's daughter hid behind him, then ran into their mobile home.
The men wanted money.
He was broke, Ruiz told them, and the men drove off after a few terrifying seconds.
In four cases on the weekend before Thanksgiving, armed robbers appeared to have targeted Hispanics and migrant workers living in the countryside near Clinton. In one robbery, intruders stormed into a mobile home and fired into a bedroom, critically wounding a 4-year-old boy.
Sampson County sheriff's deputies don't know whether the four crimes are related, but they're all too familiar with the violence. Hispanics, many of whom are migrant field workers, are seen as easy targets in brazen attacks and burglaries. Criminals may believe migrants carry large sums of cash. Or maybe they know that few of these cases ever get solved or even reported to law enforcement.
But it's clear that many farm-working Hispanics across the Cape Fear region are increasingly living in fear. Few families answer the door after dark in neighborhoods robbers have targeted. Farmers who employ documented migrant workers and house them in labor camps have hired off-duty lawmen to patrol, especially around payday.
And some Hispanic families have resorted to taking turns keeping an overnight watch outside their homes.
More than a week after the robbers in the black SUV pointed a gun at him, Ruiz was pacing his cul-de-sac, which is off U.S. 701 north of Clinton. He does this a lot now, he said, walking the block to watch for unfamiliar cars or people
"I'm scared," he said.
The night before Ruiz's confrontation, robbers had driven down a dirt path about five miles to the north.
The path leads to a mobile home park on Plantation Lane, filled mostly with migrant workers.
Two families were asleep in the home where the robbers -- no one knows how many for sure -- burst through the front door around 10:20 p.m. They tried to get into a bedroom, then fired a shot through the door that hit the 4-year-old boy in the head.
Sheriff's deputies say the robbers left with nothing, and the boy remains on life support in critical but stable condition.
Last week, most of the neighbors on Plantation Lane didn't answer their doors after nightfall, even though there were lights on inside.
"We're scared," said Lisa Chavez Lopez in Spanish as she peeked out a window. "I wouldn't open the door if I don't know you."
That Nov. 16 robbery was the third this year in their mobile home park, Lopez said.
"I don't understand," she said, "because we don't have money, nothing to rob."
Lopez and her husband, Enrique Vasquez Vera, can see the home where the boy was shot from their front yard. Vera said he's been told the boy can move one foot and his hands slightly, and he could open one eye.
"It entered here," Vera said of the bullet, pointing to his forehead, "and exited here," the back of his head. Standing on their porch strung with Christmas lights, Lopez and Vera held their 11-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
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