Janet Jordan opened the door of her South Omaha home to be neighborly.
Louise Sollowin lay asleep in her home near Little Italy, where some of her neighbors felt safe leaving their doors unlocked.
Bob and Betty Vasholz were just starting their day in their Florence-area home, their immediate plans centering on a trip to the store.
Each became a victim of violence made all the worse by their age — 76 to 93 — and defenselessness. They were attacked by younger, stronger assailants who broke into their homes. Sollowin and Bob Vasholz died of their injuries.
Prosecutors have reacted forcefully in return, planning to seek the death penalty in one case and charging a teen as an adult in another. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he wants to send the message that violence against the elderly won't be tolerated.
Omaha police say violent crimes against the elderly are rare, that it's unusual for the city to see three cases like this in the span of less than a year.
At the same time, they don't want these high-profile crimes to be cause for alarm.
Those over age 65 still make up the lowest percentage of crime victims in the United States — 15 percent, according to victimsofcrime.org, a website that gathers crime statistics. (Omaha police statistics on crimes against the elderly were not immediately available.)
But authorities are concerned that an aging public is creating more potential crime victims.
“As the population ages, certainly there are people out there who, unfortunately, will prey on people who are vulnerable,” Kleine said. “To me, one of the most important things in a civilized society is that we protect the people who are most vulnerable.”
Sollowin, 93, was raped and beaten by her intruder in July; she died a few days later. The Vasholzes were beaten and badly burned when their home was set on fire in February. Bob Vasholz, 83, died of smoke inhalation. Jordan suffered several blows to her face during her attack on Oct. 22.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” Jordan, 78, said Thursday. “I kept saying, 'Please don't hit me anymore. You're going to kill me.' ”
Jordan was readmitted to the hospital late Thursday with complications stemming from the injuries she suffered. She was listed in serious condition Friday at Creighton University Medical Center.
Omaha Police Detective Jon Martin, who investigated Jordan's beating, said he doesn't understand the assailant's motive: “If you knew it's an elderly person, why wouldn't you back off at that point?”
Prosecutors have responded to each case swiftly and vigorously.
Last week, Kleine's office charged a 16-year-old boy as an adult with attempted robbery for the break-in at Jordan's home.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Sollowin's alleged attacker is convicted of murder.
And the man charged in the death of Bob Vasholz is now on trial for first-degree murder; a verdict in the case against Terrance Hale, 30, is expected next week.
Police said older people are more likely to be targeted by financial scammers than violent criminals. Still, older people need to understand what they can do to protect themselves from violence.
“So many people are trusting,” said Police Sgt. Erin Payne, a crime prevention officer. “Don't be afraid to check people out.”
The Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging asks its Meals on Wheels drivers to keep an eye on the people on their routes and to notify police if anything — or anyone — in the neighborhood appears suspicious.
Jordan thought she was doing everything right. She locked her doors, turned on the porch light at night and kept an eye on her surroundings. In 32 years of living alone, she had been fine.
Then someone knocked on her door late at night last week. She thought it was her neighbor and worried that he needed something.
Instead, a stranger burst through and beat her with a stick. The attacker tried to steal her television, but dropped it and fled after it broke.
Police don't know if Jordan had been targeted.
“He might have been casing her house because she was an elderly female who lived alone,” Martin said, describing such crimes as “unusual and alarming.”
Sollowin lived her entire life in the same neighborhood.
Sergio Martinez-Perez, a 20-year-old Sonora, Mexico, native who is in the country illegally, was found naked and asleep on top of Sollowin after the attack. He reportedly told police that he had been drinking all night and was “angry at women” because he had been rebuffed by a woman at a bar earlier that night. He picked his victim randomly, police said.
The Vasholzes were talking about getting doughnuts when a man burst inside their home, demanded money, then started a fire, according to police. Betty Vasholz, 76, testified this week to the terror of that day, the horror of her husband's death. The accused man lived in their general neighborhood, but she didn't know him by name.
When Jordan finally had a name and face to put to the suspect in her attack, she said she felt no ill will toward him. Police have charged Naushkoniwaheega Hamilton in the case.
“I hope he gets the help he needs,” she said. “He could turn his life around. He's such a nice-looking boy.”
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