Handyman dies protecting Centreville family he worked for from armed home invaders

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; A01

Jose Rosales was a devout Christian. He sent every spare penny he made as a landscaper and handyman back to his family in Guatemala, and he was so strong and industrious that he did the work of three men. He had the complete trust of the Brar family who hired him.

In turn, Rosales appreciated the steady work the Brars gave him in their construction and real estate businesses and around their 10-acre Centreville property and 9,000-square foot mansion, especially in tough economic times.

So on Monday morning, when two armed men broke into the family's four-car garage, Rosales stood between them and the Brars. "Get away from my brother and my mom," he said.

Then, the stocky Rosales decided to fight back. He jumped one of the invaders and wrested his gun away, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday. But the other man turned his gun on the family's mother. He threatened to kill the matriarch if Rosales didn't give the gun back. Rosales did, the sources said.

And then the gunmen shot and killed Rosales.

"Without Jose, I firmly believe I would not be alive right now," said Robbie Brar, a member of the stunned family, who spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday. "In a situation where most people probably run away, not only did he not run away, but he stood strong to protect people that are not related to him. He's a guardian angel."

The two intruders fled as soon they killed Rosales. Nothing was taken from the home, the sources said. Police said they did not know whether the family was targeted or the crime was random.

Fairfax County police said that the Brars did not know the intruders and that they do not know why the gunmen went to the Tudor-style mansion on Compton Road about 10:30 a.m. Monday. The police have no suspects. But they are looking for an older model white Toyota pickup. A witness reported seeing a man jump into the truck's bed on Compton Road near Bay Valley Lane about 10:50 a.m., and then seeing the man pull a tarp over himself as the truck sped east toward Union Mill Road, police said.

Jose Ramiro Rosales Cardona, 39, was the father of two sons, now in college in Guatemala, his friends said. When he wasn't working, he was studying to become a minister or spending time with a church group in Manassas discussing the Bible, playing the guitar and singing Christian songs, his friends said.

Fairfax police declined to discuss Rosales's actions Tuesday. But two sources familiar with the investigation used the same words: "He is a hero."

Rosales had been in the United States for at least eight years, his friends said, and most recently rented a room in a Manassas Park home. He came to the United States to work and support his family. Brar said Rosales hoped one day to return to Guatemala, build and own a home, and resume farming, as his family once did.

"He was an excellent person," said his housemate of two years, Jose Molina. "Never any problems. Always spending time at the church."

Rosales was part of a small church, Mision Evangelica San Juan, that met in the home of its pastor, Jaime Zuniga. He was there four times a week, Zuniga's brother Luis Zuniga said, and everyone at the church knew him as "Brother Jose."

"Every day that he has time," Luis Zuniga said, "he's here to talk about God. . . . Anybody who talks with him, the first thing he says is, 'Jesus Christ loves you.' "

On the day that Rosales died, Zuniga said, he was supposed to lead the Bible study. Instead, an overflowing group of Rosales's friends filled the house Monday after learning of his death.

Zuniga said Rosales was an accomplished guitarist and would join Zuniga on piano and another guitarist to form a trio. Rosales hoped to record a CD of his guitar playing sometime, Zuniga said.

The group had been looking at properties in Manassas to buy for a permanent church. Now the group will try to send the money to Rosales's family, Zuniga said.

Brar, 28, said his family has a number of construction and real estate ventures in Northern Virginia, in addition to a check cashing and mortgage store in Manassas.

The family regularly hires laborers to do landscaping and maintenance. About a year and a half ago, Brar said, he met Rosales and soon came to "trust him with anything."

The Brars would hire Rosales to paint, build, clean or mow lawns. "He pretty much could do anything," Brar said. "He painted like a professional. He did landscaping like a professional."

Sitting in the truck with him at jobs, Brar learned of Rosales's two children in college, his sick mother in Guatemala, his background as a farmer. When it came to religion, Brar said, "he was very tolerant of others' beliefs. He was a very intelligent guy." Brar said Rosales had some medical education, as well as police and military training before leaving Guatemala for work in America.

Rosales's focus was on becoming a pastor, Brar said. "I never saw him angry," Brar said. "He always spoke with respect to every single person he came across."

Brar said that when it came to money, "pretty much everything but his food and rent money he sent to his ill mother and children."

Brar did not want to discuss the specifics of the attempted home invasion. But, he said, "I believe Jose was sent into my life a year and a half ago by some higher power." Brar, his parents and younger brother were home at the time of the attack.

Brar said he plans to help Rosales's family "like he helped my family. Now I'm the brother and the son. Money comes and goes. We're going to help his family out however we can."

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