Daytime homicide shakes North Ridge community

Daytime homicide shakes North Ridge community

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

City Councilor and North Ridge resident Tim Lovain said that until recently, his neighborhood was renowned for peace and quiet.

“I remember a civic activist who used to call it ‘Happy Land,’” he said. “That’s why this is so especially surprising.”

North Ridge’s quiet residential veneer was shattered February 6, when a man knocked on the door of 59-year-old piano teacher Ruthanne Lodato’s home and shot her and a caretaker when they answered. Lodato succumbed to her injuries; the second victim is recovering at a local hospital.

With many residents still in shock, police and city officials gave neighbors an opportunity to ask questions about the investigation at a hastily planned meeting Monday night hosted by the North Ridge Citizens’ Association at the Beverley Hills Community United Methodist Church.

Police Chief Earl Cook had few new details about the case Monday. But he said investigators remain on the lookout for a suspect described as an older white balding man with a gray beard, possibly wearing a tan jacket.

Cook has increased patrols in the neighborhood and encouraged residents to keep vigilant. The department is getting help from the FBI and state police.

“We’ve increased our presence not only in North Ridge, but [also] in the adjoining neighborhoods and elsewhere in the city,” Cook said. “[We’re] working around the clock, and we will continue to do that until there is no further place to go. … Lock your doors and windows and make sure you know who is on the other side of the door if possible.”

Meanwhile, the community mourns the loss of a beloved neighbor and teacher. Ken Hill, president of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association, said Lodato was a woman who lit up a room with her smile and generosity.

“We were much richer in her presence,” Hill said. “We’ll miss her constant smile and gentile nature.”

Residents had many questions about the investigation during the meeting. They wondered about the type of bullet used — and how that might compare to other unsolved murders, like the killing of transportation planner Ronald Kirby in the fall — and what leads may have been generated from interviews with the living victim.

But Cook resisted attempts to uncover more details, explaining that revealing investigative information could make it tougher to put the perpetrator behind bars.

“If and when we find out [forensic test results], I can’t reveal it,” Cook said. “It goes toward the prosecution of the case. … If we put case details into public and give up evidence, it harms our ability to be successful.”

Sunny Yoder, a North Ridge resident for more than 30 years who lives around the corner from Lodato, said she didn’t know there was an armed suspect on the loose initially, even with the police activity — including helicopters and officers toting rifles — going on February 6.

“I had no way of knowing that an armed suspect was being sought,” Yoder said. “I saw there were tweets, but they weren’t specific. I felt unnerved by it.”

Cook said the department tried to push out as much information as possible to the public in a timely manner, but he noted that the main goal in the immediate aftermath of the shooting was finding the culprit.

“There’s always competing focuses between notification and actual police action, and when we needed to get aid to the victims and capture the assailant, all of our focus was on that,” he said. “We would hope in that situation that you would shelter in place. Understand that we were dealing with an ongoing incident and couldn’t take resources away from that.”