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Heart-broken mom: Son’s killing ‘nothing new for this town’

PALMETTO — A heart-broken Sondra Ruger said the killing of her son Tuesday has taken away her final reason for living.

The 68-year-old mother of two stood in front of her Bradenton home hours after learning John Carl Ruger, 44, had been found shot to death in the parking lot of an industrial park at 1475 12th St. E in Palmetto.

Like so many family members of victims in 2009 during Manatee’s worst year ever for homicides, Ruger decried the violence that has gripped Manatee. Ruger’s slaying is the first homicide in Manatee this year.

“I lost my baby boy, but that is nothing new in this town,” she said. “I have nothing to live for now.”

As police continue to investigate leads, Ruger said she has one hope.

“I have had eight heart surgeries and am up for another one, so I am dying, I know that,” she said. “I just want to see whoever did this pay before I die.”

A Palmetto police sergeant on routine patrol discovered Ruger shot at about 4:30 a.m., in the parking lot of Piano Distributors, one of several businesses in the industrial park just off U.S. 301.

Detectives continue to investigate a possible motive for the killing, and have leads in the case, Palmetto Police Lt. Scott Tyler said. Police believe Ruger was shot sometime between midnight and 4 a.m. Tuesday, Tyler said.

By 8 a.m., Ruger’s body had been taken to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, and 15 minutes later a green Dodge minivan was towed from the scene.

Ruger apparently had no connection to the piano business where police found his body, Tyler said.

John Vassallo, who owns Arrowhead Industrial Services just down the street, watched the investigation unfold.

“I’m a little surprised to see it. I’ve been at this park late at night, and there’s usually no one here,” he said. “We make sure we lock the door, set the alarm and close the gate, but that’s really all you can do.”

Times have been tough for the Ruger family, with John Ruger recently losing his job, Sondra Ruger going through numerous heart surgeries, and her oldest son, Danny Gayler, continuing a battle with cancer.

John Ruger spent time in the Navy while in his 20s, and as a talented machinist worked several jobs in the Bradenton area over the years, including at Tropicana, his mother said.

Two years ago, Ruger moved to North Carolina and began working in a factory there. But that job dried up in the down economy, and Ruger returned to Bradenton.

“John had been unemployed for nine months. He looked for work everywhere,” Sondra Ruger said. “He had worked since he was 13 years old, so he started to get bored and got involved with some bad people. I was so worried about him.”

She and her son had a talk about his problems Monday night, she said, but he then left the house.

“He said he would be back in 20 or 30 minutes,” she said. “I begged him not to go, but he said he didn’t want anything to happen to me or his brother.”

A record 27 people were victims of homicide in Manatee County last year, but none within the city limits of Palmetto.

Ruger’s slaying is the first homicide in the city since Nov. 26, 2008, when Miguel Hernandez-Gomez was found shot to death behind a gas station in the 700 block of Ninth Street West. No arrests have been made in that case.

“I hope we don’t have one for another 10 years,” Tyler said.

Anyone with information on Ruger’s killing can call Palmetto Police Department Detective Chad Oyler at (941) 721-2000, ext. 306, or Detective Ryan LaRowe at ext. 125, or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (866)634-TIPS (8477).

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