The boys bumped into Peter LaBeck on a downtown sidewalk and punched, kicked and shoved the old man until he tumbled to the pavement, bleeding and crying and afraid.
They robbed him, but not of the $100 neatly folded in his worn, leather wallet.
Instead, they stole his spirit.
LaBeck, 81, died Tuesday in a South Hill nursing home, almost two months to the day after the vicious beating that police and witnesses called a racial attack.
“They took his will to live,” said LaBeck’s son-in-law, Mike Lynch. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Before the Sept. 12 assault, LaBeck was a friendly, busy man who made a fuss over everyone he knew.
But the beating he took in front of the Fox Theater sent his life “on a downward spiral,” Lynch said Wednesday.
Eyes blackened, nose broken and bruised, LaBeck tried to bounce back. He even returned downtown a few days later, but couldn’t climb out of his depression.
In light of LaBeck’s death, county prosecutors said Wednesday they’ll review the case to decide whether murder charges will be brought against Adrian Washington, 16. An autopsy is planned for Friday.
Washington was sentenced Oct. 20 to 65 weeks in juvenile detention for LaBeck’s beating.
“What hurts is that he loved people so much and these people stole his soul,” Stephanie Lynch said of her father. “And yet all he could do was forgive them. He was hurting but he kept his faith.”
The assault had a startling effect on LaBeck, a retired Air Force sergeant who helped deliver meals to elderly shut-ins.
Within days, LaBeck, a diabetic, stopped eating properly because his dentures were broken in the attack.
His daughter admitted him to the hospital at Fairchild Air Force Base. Doctors said he was dehydrated, hooked him to tubes for a week and refused to release him to his wife, Elsie, who also is elderly.
He moved to a nursing home, which he despised. Soon he was down to 95 pounds, couldn’t sit up in bed by himself and was pushed around in a wheelchair.
“It was like he knew he couldn’t dance anymore,” Lynch said. “He sort of said, ‘Forget it.”’
Friends dropped by to see LaBeck often, and his daughter Stephanie kept him posted on the court proceedings against his young attackers.
Last month, when she was about to go to Washington’s sentencing, LaBeck asked his daughter to take a message for him to court.
“Tell them I forgive them,” he said.
Relatives on Wednesday didn’t dwell on LaBeck’s decline but looked back on his life, which he celebrated into his ninth decade.
The remembered how he took a bus each day from his South Hill home to church downtown.
Then he’d shuffle over to the Mid-City Senior Center on West First, his cane tapping gently on the sidewalk next to loosely laced high-top sneakers. He ate lunch with his buddies, cleared the tables and took out the garbage.
“Nothing got him down,” said Deanne Houston, the center’s manager. “He did a lot of cheering up down here.”
Two days before the beating, LaBeck was twisting on the dance floor at the Eagles Lodge on East Francis, where he was a 16-year member.
He went to the lodge’s senior citizens’ dance every Sunday, flitting from one partner to the next. The band played swinging tunes from the 1940s, and LaBeck rarely sat one out.
“He wasn’t shy about moving out there,” remembered Jerry Cross, who works at the Eagles. “He never drank. He just danced.”
LaBeck always stayed for the doorprize drawing at 10:30 p.m. to see whether he won the dinner-for-two tickets. He was known for being curiously lucky when it came to winning, relatives said.
Then he went home to his wife of 42 years, who gave up dancing long ago.
“I can’t keep up with him,” she said. “He can’t sit still.”
LaBeck died in his sleep early Tuesday at St. Brendan’s Continuing Care Center.
A Funeral service will be Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Augustine Parish, 428 W. 19th. The public is invited. Burial will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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