An 88-year-old wounded veteran of World War II died Thursday after he was brutally beaten, apparently at random, in the parking lot of his lodge in Spokane, Wash., authorities said.
Spokane police said they were seeking two suspects in the attack Wednesday night on Delbert "Shorty" Belton, a retired aluminum company worker who'd lived in the city for most of his life after he was discharged from the Army after the war. Belton died of his injuries Thursday morning, police said.
The suspects were described as black males of average build, 16 to 19 years old, wearing black clothing and red sneakers. Police Lt. Mark Griffiths said they apparently attacked Belton at random.
"It appears he was assaulted in the parking lot, and there was no indication that he would have known these people prior to the assault," Griffiths said at a news conference.
As police released surveillance camera photos of two young men believed to be the suspects, a makeshift memorial overflowing with flowers, U.S. flags and messages of sympathy sprouted Thursday outside the Eagles Lodge in North Spokane.
Friends and family remembered Belton as a warm, generous man who helped many people over the years.
"He had a heart of gold," friend Linda Herde told NBC station KHQ of Spokane.
"There wasn't a thing he wouldn't do for anybody," she added. "He'd give you the shirt off his back."
Belton was waiting for a friend at the lodge because he didn't want her to walk in alone, Lillian Duncan, a longtime friend,told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane.
"He was so awesome," Duncan told the newspaper. "Anybody that didn't get to know him missed out on a wonderful angel in their life."
Many others told similar stories.
"If it wouldn't have been for him, I wouldn't have been able to get my life straight," Belton's great-nephew Allen Hills told KHQ.
Hills said he had hit bottom about 10 years ago in California, where he was unemployed and sleeping on his mother's sofa. That's when his great-uncle stepped in with the offer of a car and a new life in Washington state.
"It seems trivial, but he really did save my life," Hills said. "He made it possible for me to get a job and find work."
Ted Dennison, a friend, called Belton "a tough old bird" who was shot in the leg in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. His experiences in the war didn't appear to have dampened Belton's instinct to help others, Denison said.
"He was always there any time I needed anything," Denison told KHQ.
Belton died the same day another Spokane man was killed in a confrontation with police, a manifestation of what Hills said was the "senseless violence" plaguing the city of 210,000 in eastern Washington.
"It's too much, and it's constant and never-ending," said Hills, who said Belton was just the latest victim.
"He wasn't just my great-uncle," Hills said. "He was a great person, and he didn't deserve to die like that."