The Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) - On the last morning of his life, Jorge Mario Gonzalez drove to his beloved Four Oaks Farm, a 30-acre ranch tucked away in the bucolic Texas countryside, his pregnant wife and 21-month-old son by his side.
There, just outside the small town of Bellville, the 56-year-old Houston doctor could step away from his pressure-packed work life as chief of critical care at The Methodist Hospital and head of a thriving private practice. He fed the cattle, mowed the grass and mulched the trees.
It was a cherished weekend routine for the Guatemalan immigrant who had earned a reputation as one of the city's premier physicians, a pulmonary medical specialist who greeted colleagues with a ready smile and never balked at spending hours by a patient's bedside.
But on Aug. 22, the doctor's soul-calming ritual was shattered by gunfire when would-be burglars surprised the family soon after they arrived at the ranch.
Gonzalez died at the scene. A ranch employee, Noel Galvan, was wounded. The doctor's wife, Charleen, called 911 as she hid from the masked intruders with the couple's son, Mario. Neither was injured.
As Bellville police turned onto the road leading to Four Oaks, they saw two vehicles speeding out of the gated property, said Sgt. Paul Faircloth of the Austin County Sheriff's Department. One of the suspects fired at police, but missed.
On Friday, investigators announced that two of Galvan's brothers, Cristobal, 23, and Moises Galvan, 18, had been arrested and charged with murder. They are being held in Austin County Jail without bond, said Capt. Martin Freeman of the Texas Rangers. A third suspect, a cousin of the Galvans, is being sought in the crime.
The slaying shook the peaceful hamlet of Bellville, and stunned Gonzalez's family and friends.
"My husband's big hobby was the ranch. It was his passion," said Charleen Gonzalez, 29, a molecular biologist who managed her husband's practice and clinical research trials. "He was never afraid of anything there. It's the kind of place where you don't have to lock your doors."
With a population of about 4,000, Bellville is fast becoming a bedroom community for Houston, said Faircloth. Yet it remains sleepy and secluded. That's what kept drawing Gonzalez, said his wife of nine months.
The couple traveled the 60 miles from Houston every Saturday, just after Gonzalez, who went by his middle name Mario, completed rounds at Methodist. Often, they would make the drive with the radio silenced. However, on Aug. 15, Charleen Gonzalez recalled, "Wish You Were Here," a mournful country ballad by Mark Wills, eased from the speakers and brought her to tears.
Perhaps, she says, it was an omen.
"I can't get that song out of my head," she said. "I feel like he was talking to me. It gives me a strong connection to Mario."
At the ranch, Gonzalez tended to the cattle, or puttered around the property on his tractor, his son on his lap. On Sundays, the couple would often go to a bakery shop in town for breakfast.
Gonzalez's affection for country life had its roots in his childhood in Guatemala, said friend Keith Owen.
His father was the chief of external affairs for United Fruit Co., so agriculture was a part of his world, Owen said.
Gonzalez, who knew from a young age that he wanted to be a doctor, graduated with degrees from the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala City before going to medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
He became Methodist's critical care chief three years ago, and served as secretary of the hospital's medical staff. Gonzalez also maintained a private practice, where he was scheduled to begin clinical research studies next month, said his wife.
"I could tell how engaged he was with his patients," said A. Osama Gaber, director of the Methodist transplant center and vice chairman of surgery. "He never gave up on patients. He always did the best he knew how to do. He was a true physician."
Yet, even as Gonzalez built his career in Houston, he never forgot his homeland, his faith or his family, said his wife, colleagues and friends.
Gonzalez and his wife traveled to Guatemala twice in the past two years ‚- once as guests for the presidential inauguration and again for their son's baptism, when Vice President Rafael Espada, a close friend, served as his godfather.
A Catholic, Gonzalez visited the hospital chapel at least once a day, and often prayed with his patients.
And he kept close to his family ‚- a heading that included his three children from a previous marriage, as well as friends, colleagues and patients, said Owen. "Whenever he had something important to say, he'd lean in close and say: 'We are family.' That's what I'll remember."
When his father died a few years ago, Gonzalez said he got past his grief with the belief that they would see each other again some day. Now, his widow, whose son is due on what would have been Gonzalez's 57th birthday in February, says she is clasping to that same hope.
She remembers happier things, like her husband reading "Runaway Bunny" to Mario. His love of fast cars. And their wedding, when she surprised him by singing "Can't Help Falling in Love."
The ceremony, marking the start of their life together, also took place at Four Oaks.