Mireya Maria Alvarado shared whatever she had with friends and strangers alike: a plate of food, a place to stay, a few dollars.
At 65, Alvarado ran a rooming house south of downtown Orlando and worked 10-hour shifts, seven days a week in a food truck she ran with her husband, Rolando Carrasquel.
Her long days of labor ended Sunday when two robbers burst into the big white truck on Colonial Drive near Old Cheney Highway and shot her to death.
An 83-year-old neighbor who was helping Alvarado close up at 2:30 a.m. held the bleeding woman in his arms on the floor of the Arepera Solita food truck as she gasped for breath.
Alvarado, who had an adult daughter and six stepchildren, was pronounced dead a short time later at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
The robbers ran away and have not been caught, leaving Alvarado’s family and friends struggling to understand how they could have killed her for the proceeds from a few $5 meals.
“She was a great mother, a great wife and a great person,” Carrasquel, 52, said through a Spanish interpreter in an interview Tuesday at the couple’s home in the Holden Heights neighborhood. “She always had a big smile.”
Alvarado’s friends remember her as a tough yet kind-hearted woman who had a soft spot for the hungry and homeless. She lived in a neighborhood that’s no stranger to crime, her tenants said, and earned the respect of everyone there — even the drug dealers.
Alvarado was more than a landlord to tenant Denise Shepherd-Oscar. She was like family.
“She was the neighborhood mom,” said Shepherd-Oscar, 44. “She never made us feel like outsiders. She never judged us.”
Shepherd-Oscar’s 49-year-old husband, Robert, said Alvarado let him move in without a security deposit and let the rent slide until he got on his feet.
“Don’t worry about it,” Robert Shepherd-Oscar recalled her saying. “Come stay here.”
Alvarado, who was from the Dominican Republic, met her husband at an Orange County flea market where he sold vegetables and she was a customer with a particular fondness for yucca. He asked her to work for him. He found out she was a good cook. They fell in love and got married nearly five years ago.
Six months ago, Alvarado, a former nurse’s aide, agreed to help her husband fulfill his dream of opening a business to showcase the cuisines of his native Venezuela and other Hispanic countries. They invested their life savings of nearly $40,000 in Arepera Solita and parked the truck at a window-tinting shop, across the street from a nightclub.
Soon, the couple developed a following for their arepas (cornmeal cakes) camarón (shrimp), chicharrón (crisp pork rinds) and the $5.50 special of fish-head soup with fried green plantains.
“She was following my dreams,” Carrasquel told the Orlando Sentinel this week.
The day his wife was killed, Carrasquel was home recovering from kidney surgery. Their neighbor, Rene Martinez, worked alongside Alvarado instead.
As they closed for the night, Martinez said, he opened the door so he and Alvarado could bring in the chairs. Two men in their early 20s — one holding a small-caliber handgun — surprised them.
If Alvarado had had some warning, her friends said, she would have defended herself with her own gun, which she kept for protection. But she had no time to react.
Caught off guard, all Martinez could do was push the unarmed man. The next thing he knew, a bullet struck him in the middle finger of his right hand. It whizzed past him and hit Alvarado, who fell to the floor. At first, Martinez thought she had ducked.
Then he saw the blood.
“She opened her eyes,” said Martinez, a retired supermarket cashier and hotel houseman who immediately called 911. “She looked at me. She was gasping for breath.”
A memorial of flowers, candles and notes to Alvarado has sprung up at her food truck, which is shuttered. Carrasquel hasn’t decided whether he’ll reopen.
“I thank God for the short time he blessed me knowing you,” wrote a man who signed his name, “Your friend, Mike.” “You were a true example of his love and how we should love one another.”
He’s not a vindictive man, but Carrasquel said he hopes theOrange County Sheriff’s Officewill catch his wife’s killers. A Crimeline flier describes one as a short, light-skinned black or Hispanic man wearing a white shirt, shorts and a hoodie. The second is a skinny, light-skinned black man with tightly braided black hair, also wearing a hoodie, according to the flier.
Martinez said he thinks one of them may have been a one-time customer.
For now, Carrasquel is concentrating on recovering from his operation and preparing for his wife’s viewings, which are scheduled for today from 1 to 9 p.m. and Monday from 2 to 9 p.m. at All Faiths Funeral Alternatives and Cremation Service, 4901 S. Orange Ave.
Alvarado, who had been longing to return to her native Santo Domingo, will be laid to rest there next week.