Ronald Santiago had planned to fly to Puerto Rico with his parents earlier this month to buy a vacation house.

The trip was canceled after Santiago, a 35-year-old father of three from Northeast Philadelphia, was beaten to death Dec. 8 inside a Kensington house he was rehabbing.

His father, Carmelo Santiago, 62, now plans to leave - not for a vacation, but for good. "Pretty soon this going to look like a ghost town," he said outside the house at F and Clearfield Streets that his son was fixing for resale. "All the decent people, the business people, they moving out."

Philadelphia's bloody start in 2007 has intensified the crime debate in the mayoral race and has police constantly rethinking their approach to stem the violence.

But for the families of last year's 406 homicide victims, the grief remains. Some cope - or suffer - quietly. But the Santiagos, before they leave the city, are loudly demanding justice.

Carmelo, who taught his son how to rehab and flip properties, has put up $10,000 of his own money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his son's killers.

And every Saturday, he and other family members and supporters hit the streets to pass out flyers and seek donations to increase the reward amount.

At the scene of the crime, Carmelo surveyed the area and complained about the drug dealers and junkies who infest the neighborhood. "That's why I carry my gun over here with me," he said, lifting up his sweater to reveal a snub-nose revolver in his waistband. Then he shrugged.

It's "the only way," he said.

Ronald was born in 1971 at what was then called Northeast Hospital in Port Richmond, three years after Carmelo and Ana Maria Santiago married in Philadelphia.

In a plastic sheet protector, Carmelo and Ana Maria, 57, keep a large photo of young Ronnie, as his family still calls him, and a school assignment that he filled out. "My name is Ronald. I am 9 years old . . ." it reads. "My best friend is Billy. My favorite color is blue. When I grow up I plan to [be a] Cop."

After he graduated from Edison High School, he studied business and computers. He also took the test for becoming a police officer. "They keep calling here, the police department, because they want him to be a Spanish-speaking officer," his father recalled.

But Ronald decided to follow his father in the business of rehabbing properties. Eventually, he branched out into different fields: running an auto tag business; selling car insurance; tinting car windows, renting out a banquet hall for parties.

He had two children from his first marriage - a son, now 17 and on track to graduate from high school this year, and a 12-year-old daughter. He had a third daughter, now 6, with his second wife, Gladys.

The morning of Dec. 8, Ronald was cleaning the sidewalk outside the property at F and Clearfield, which he was converting into a four-unit apartment, when he and a 44-year-old cousin were forced inside by three assailants.

On the new hardwood floor that Ronald had installed, he and his cousin were bound and then tortured. Ronald was beaten in the head with a gun so severely that he died. His cousin survived.

Ronald's keys were taken, but not his black Dodge Ram truck outside. Police at the time said they believed that the motive was robbery, though it was not clear what else was taken.

"We plan to leave the city of Philadelphia because of this," said Ronald's older brother, Stephen, 37, as he stood in the room where the killing took place.

"My brother hard at work and here comes three individuals that want to take his life for no reason whatsoever," he said.

"He begged for his life," Stephen said. "He told the three guys that I'll take you to the bank and I'll give you whatever money I have in there. Please don't take my life."

When his son died, Carmelo was shocked by what he said was the lack of interest or expressions of sympathy from city leaders.

So he called Melvin Figueroa, the outspoken father of LaToyia Figueroa, whose disappearance in 2005 attracted national attention because news organizations were facing accusations that they focused on missing-persons cases of only white women. She was later found dead, the victim of a homicide, and her boyfriend was sent to prison.

Figueroa, 46, organized a march for Ronald one week after his death that drew 100 to 200 friends and supporters.

Figueroa has continued to help the Santiagos make their son represent something more than a statistic: the 380th homicide of 2006.

"When the father of a police officer got killed [this month], they have all these cops out there, they have the FBI out there looking for the killer," Figueroa said.

But for Ronald, he said, "nobody want to help."

"They forget about us," Carmelo said.

Deputy Police Commissioner Richard J. Ross, a former homicide unit commander, said all murder investigations get the full attention of detectives.

"I understand the frustration, but people need to know that detectives get frustrated, too," Ross said. The investigators don't give up, he added.

The family hasn't given up, either. Carmelo and Stephen continue to work on the little apartment building at F and Clearfield. "We're going to finish this house, little by little," Stephen said. "We're going to finish this house, finish my brother's dream."

More Information

Police ask that anyone with information about the slaying of Ronald Santiago call homicide detectives at 215-686-3334 or 215-686-3335.

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For video of an antiviolence march held in Santiago's memory, and an interview with his family, go to http://go.philly.com/santiagoEndText

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.