Meticulous Camden man's mysterious end

Exterior of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden.
Exterior of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 20, 2014

ON THE outside, Fernando Ramos' house behind a chain-link fence in the Cramer Hill section of Camden still seemed immaculate despite the fire, the paint still a vivid yellow against the charring around the newly boarded windows.

The 71-year-old retiree took pride in the two-story home, a neighbor on 31st Street said, in each blade of grass that sprouted in a small square beyond the patio in a backyard devoid of furniture, plants or anything else.

"You can tell a lot about a man by the way he takes care of his lawn," Qadir Syms, 29, said Tuesday from his front porch next door.

On the inside, law-enforcement sources said, the home was just as spotless, Ramos' clothes folded neatly in drawers, the signs of a meticulous man who ironed out life's smallest details with ease.

That's why the neighborhood, people who've met Ramos and even law-enforcement officials were all stumped by what Ramos did Monday afternoon when he lit his house on fire, drove his Oldsmobile 3 miles to Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Camden and shot himself inside a public restroom there about 12:30 p.m.

Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, confirmed only that a 71-year-old man had set his home on fire before taking his own life at the hospital.

Ramos did not leave a suicide note, sources said, and the paint and lawn and his neatly folded clothes couldn't explain what was going on inside his head.

"I've been to his home. He's a very cheerful man, he was very talkative. He loved fiddling with things," said Kim Diaz, of Reading, who used to date Ramos' only child, Elliot. "This just got me stunned."

Elliot Ramos, 41, learned of his father's death in the Camden County Jail, where's he is being held on drug charges after an arrest in Camden last month.

Neighbors said Ramos had retired from Aluminum Shapes in nearby Pennsauken, but a woman in the human-resources department there said he was laid off in 2011 after working as a forklift operator for 23 years.

Ramos wasn't married. Syms said he had been dating an aunt of Syms'. That woman could not be reached for comment.

"He was a quiet guy who kept to himself," neighbor Oscar Camacho said. "He waved to everyone when he went for a walk."

Camacho said it didn't appear that Ramos had any illnesses.

"No one can believe it," he said of the shocking death.

A spokeswoman for Our Lady of Lourdes said Ramos was not a patient there. The hospital noted that his death was the third suicide at a Philadelphia-area hospital in the last 15 months. In March, a 26-year-old man shot himself in the head at Inspira Medical Center in Woodbury, Gloucester County.

"Suicide is an epidemic in our society," Lourdes Health System president Alexander J. Hatala said in a statement.

Diaz said she was at the Cramer Hill house in January when Ramos and his son reconnected, along with a grandson, Elliot Jr., after many years. She saw only smiles during that visit, she said.

"He loved the fact that he had grandchildren," she said. "He seemed so happy that day."

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