ELSA C. RIOS-OLAH lived for many years on North 9th Street near Birch Street in North Camden. A graduate of Rutgers University, she worked as a certified bilingual social worker with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services from 1994 to 2002.
Mrs. Olah fell victim to the epidemic of drug- and gang-related violence that had plagued North Camden for well over four decades when she was hit by a stray bullet outside her home on February 28, 2004. She died at Cooper Hospital two days later. Her killer, an 18-year-old male who lived nearby, was quickly arrested.
Elsa Olah is seen holding her grandson, Paul, and with her daughter, Gizella, and son, Paul, in this family photograph.
Camden Courier-Post - Tuesday, March 2, 2004
Woman Dies After Being Hit By Stray Bullet Outside Home
Elsa Olah refused to give up on her North Camden neighborhood. Despite pleas from her two children who had become increasingly concerned about violence, Olah would not leave the tidy white-brick row-house she called home for 20 years. Now Olah's children say their mother's faith in her community helped get her killed.
Olah, a 62-year-old social worker, died Monday from a stomach wound she sustained as she was getting into her car about noon Saturday near her home in the 500 block of North 9th Street. Her neighbor - Abismael Arroyo, 18 - intended to shoot another person when a stray bullet struck Olah as she approached her red Chevrolet Monte Carlo, authorities said.
"She wouldn't leave the neighborhood. She said just because these people are poor, they're not bad. Now look what happened," said Gizella Olah, the victim's daughter. "My mother helped a lot of people. She would open her door to anyone."
Arroyo is charged with aggravated assault and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, authorities said. He is expected to be charged with Elsa Olah's murder, the 10th in the city this year. He was sent to Camden County Jail on $100,000 bail. The shooting remains under investigation, Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said.
Seconds after the gunfire erupted, Olah's son, Paul, lifted his mother into his arms and rushed her to Cooper University Hospital.
"She was conscious. She told me she was shot," said Paul Olah, a 34-year-old father of two boys.
He received a call early Monday from doctors at Cooper, who told him to get there as quickly as he could. His mother's heart had stopped beating and she had been put on life support. She began breathing on her own again 17 minutes later, but she could not pull through. Her family arrived just in time to watch her slip away. She was pronounced dead at 2:44 a.m.
"I think they just revived her so we could say goodbye," said Paul Olah, his eyes welling with tears.
Elsa Olah, a Rutgers University graduate, worked as a certified bilingual social worker with the state Department of Health and Senior Services from 1994 to 2002, according to the New Jersey Department of Personnel. She always had her neighborhood's best interests at heart, said Lillian Santiago, a North Camden activist.
"She was just a really good person," said Santiago, 61. "She was real concerned with the way things were going around here."
"This just didn't start with this kid, it's this atmosphere, this area," he said, standing on his front porch and motioning to the bustling neighborhood around him. "It started with his parents and his family. I just want him to be prosecuted to the fullest," he added. "My children don't have a grandmother no more, and I don't have a mother."
Camden Courier-Post - Wednesday, March 3, 2004
MAN HELD IN FATAL SHOOTING
Camden Woman's Family Faces Slaying Suspect For First Time
By RENEE WINKLER
The family of a social worker killed by a stray bullet outside her North Camden home faced the suspect in her killing Tuesday in a Camden courtroom. Relatives of Elsa Olah remained composed both before and after the brief arraignment of 18-year-old Abismael Arroyo. They sobbed moments before the husky teenager walked into the courtroom of Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Linda G. Baxter.
"I just looked at his face," said Paul Olah, who lifted his mother from the street after she was shot just before noon Saturday, put her in his car, and sped with her to Cooper University Hospital. "I thought, I'm looking at the person who killed my mother. He wouldn't even look at me."
Assistant Camden County Prosecutor James Conley said Elsa Olah, 62, was walking from her own car when Arroyo, her neighbor in the 500 block of North 9th Street, fired a series of shots at a passing car. No motive was set for the gunfire. Olah walked into the line of fire, Conley said. Struck once, she died Monday from a stomach wound. Arroyo is being held in Camden County Jail, unable to post $350,000 bail. Arroyo's mother was among those who identified him as the shooter, Conley told Baxter.
Ironically, Elsa Olah resisted her children's efforts to persuade her to move to a safer community, Paul Olah said.
"She always told us she had what she needed right there, and she didn't need much," he said. His mother sent visitors home with leftovers from every family meal, he said. "If you said you liked her earrings, she'd give them to you," said Paul Olah, describing his mother as a beautiful woman.
Elsa Olah loved the people in her neighborhood, said her sister Marie Rivera. Elsa Olah had been a community service officer with the Division of Addiction Services of the state's Department of Health and Human Services. When the grief subsides, it is her optimism that will remain with her family, neighbors and co-workers, Paul Olah said.
"She went beyond thinking her glass was half-full. She would say, `Look, look how much I have!'. "I wish I could have danced with her one more time, laughed with her one more time," Paul Olah said.
Camden Courier-Post - Wednesday, March 29, 2004
HELD FOR SLAIN WOMAN
By JASON LAUGHLIN
A small band of family and city activists marched Sunday in memory of a social worker killed by a stray bullet last month in her North Camden neighborhood.
One of the readings at the brief candlelight vigil in front of Elsa Olah's 9th Street home seemed to capture her life. It was a quote from Mother Teresa.
"The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow," Mother Teresa wrote. "Do good anyway."
Olah, 62, worked tirelessly to help Puerto Rican children learn English, fed the homeless who wandered her neighborhood and helped young people in Camden write college resumes. All that was on her own time, outside of her job as a social worker with the state Department of Health and Senior Services, a job for which she earned statewide acclaim.
"She didn't just do for the community," said her son, Paul Olah, 34, of Collingswood. "She did for the entire state."
Yet fewer than 20 people attended the Sunday afternoon event honoring her generosity. Most were her relatives and staff from Holy Name Church, which organized the event. A smattering of neighbors joined the short march, which began at 7th and State streets and continued to Olah's home a few blocks away. Neighborhood residents watched the group march past and some said they knew Olah, but few accepted invitations to join in the vigil. Instead they watched from a distance.
The event had been rescheduled twice, leading to difficulty getting attendance, organizers said. Sister Helen Cole, one of the vigil's organizers, said the enormous number of cards and letters the church received after Olah's death better expressed the esteem Olah enjoyed. She admitted, however, that the low turnout was disappointing, noting the people of North Camden may be too accustomed to death.
"I think people are used to it," she said. "Nobody deserved to die a violent death."
Olah was killed as she got into her car on Feb. 28. She was struck by one of several bullets fired at a passing vehicle. Her neighbor - Abismael Arroyo, 18 - is charged with murder and weapons offenses. He is awaiting trial.
Fatal shots have rung out in that neighborhood since then. Joel Torres, 25, of Pennsauken was shot by state police March 23 in the 600 block of State Street. Torres tried to rob two plainclothes officers at gunpoint, authorities said, though Torres' family contends he was not a troublemaker. The shooting is under investigation.
Olah's family had long pressed her to move out of North Camden, but she refused to abandon her neighborhood. Paul Olah and his family are still reeling from their loss.
"It's rough for me, it's still surreal," he said. "The other day I almost called her at work."
The family hopes to establish a foundation that will continue Elsa Olah's charitable work, he said. At the end of the vigil, Olah's family and friends lighted candles and sang.
"This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine," they sang as a brisk breeze blew out one candle after another. They cupped the little flames with their hands, trying to protect the remaining flickers as they sang, "Shine all over Camden, I'm gonna let it shine."
|Camden Courier-Post - Saturday, July 16, 2005|
Teen gets 18-year term for slaying
By RENEE WINKLER
A Camden teenager who fatally shot a woman who had spent her life working to improve the lives of people in the city was sentenced Friday to 18 years in state prison.
Abismael Arroyo, 19, who had pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter, will not be eligible for parole until 2018 under the sentence of Superior Court Judge Irvin Snyder. Arroyo, who had been firing a handgun at a car carrying people who had thrown rocks at his home, made no comment during the hearing, although relatives of victim Elsa Olah were present.
"The tragedies, the gunfire in the city continues. This leaves two families crying," Arroyo's defense attorney Jaime Kaigh said after the sentencing.
Paul Olah of Collingswood, the son of the shooting victim, and his wife, Christy, said they had little hope that Arroyo's time in prison would change him into a law-abiding man.
Paul Olah said that he and his 62-year-old mother, shot as she unloaded groceries from her car in the 500 block of North 9th Street on Feb. 28, 2004, often were companions on car trips.
"But the one trip that will last forever in my mind is the final trip we took together" as he drove her to the hospital, he said. Less than two days later, Olah said, he gave doctors the order to terminate life support. Elsa Olah had been a community service officer with the Division of Addiction Services with the state's Department of Health and Human Services.
"My mother's murder affected four generations of our family. I have gone from seeing her on a daily basis to never, ever, seeing her again," he said.
"Part of what makes us who we are and how we grow are the people that are around us and who we have experiences with. One of the greatest teachers I have had in life was my mother, and my children should be experiencing the love and love of living she had."
Christy Olah, who spoke to her mother-in-law daily, said it's small things that remind her of the loss she feels, things like hearing her mother-in-law's keys jingling or the smell of her perfume.
Six hours after family members decided to terminate Elsa Olah's life support, they went to Arroyo's arraignment on a murder charge.
"He showed up in the court with Not Guilty written on (the back of) his shirt," she said.
Many would lay the blame for Ms. Olah's death at the feet of the Federal government, Capitalism, "corporate America", and other interests and parties outside of the city. To my mind, if there is blame beyond the shooter, it can only be placed on the agency that has profited the most by the poverty and ignorance that has plagued Camden these many years, and that sole party is the city's Regular Democratic Organization- the only organization with a vested interest in preserving the status quo in the city, the only organization threatened by an informed, educated, and economically independent electorate.
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