The 1800 block of Portsmouth, a leafy patch cornered between Shepherd and Richmond, is quiet. The yellow tape and the blue suits and the voices jangled with nerves -- the noises that rolled over the block on Friday evening -- are gone, shuttered in houses and shuttled off to work. The block's returned to the noises it once knew, before one of its residents opened his door, took a bullet, and died in front of his family.
For those who've not yet followed the story, Ashley "Ash" Rowell was only 35 years old when, at 7:45 p.m. last Friday, an unknown assailant shot and killed him. The as-yet-unidentified murderer -- police have yet to name any suspects, or offer any additional leads -- then sped away in a dark sedan, leaving Rowell dead in his living room, shattering Rowell's eight-year-old son's sleepover in the nearby bedroom.
Nothing in the home was taken, and it's not yet known whether Rowell and the shooter even exchanged any words. "At this time," according to an HPD press release, "it is believed Rowell knew the suspect and the incident was not a home invasion."
And that's how it currently stands -- thoughts, rumors. Beliefs. Nothing concrete. Nothing known why a man as seemingly light and joyful as Rowell was victim of one of the strangest murders yet seen in Houston in 2013.
"I'd never seen, never seen the guy without a smile on his face," Jake Rainey, general manager at Flying Saucer, said. "Even when we were discussing something to make him upset, he just one of those guys with a smile. He was just a solid dude."
But it wasn't simply that Rowell, the erstwhile owner of Duff Beer Distribution, carried a greater levity than was usually seen in the craft beer community. The sandy-haired distributor served as something of a hub for the myriad spokes in Houston's growing craft beer circles, and often put the good of the industry ahead of pure fiscal gain.
"He was a great, great partner to work with," said Charles Bishop, co-owner of Liberty Station. "He was awesome for our local area -- he was always able to donate kegs for any kind of charity stuff. He always took care of us."
"He gave shots where maybe people wouldn't have," said Ben Fullelove, owner of Petrol Station. "And it wasn't like going out and hanging out with some pressed-shirt executive -- he's just Ash."
Rowell's death came as shock -- a word that's been shared by all thus interviewed by the Houston Press -- to a community whose typical days revolve around sotted patrons and sated palates. And it comes at an inauspicious time. While Rowell had agreed in January to sell Duff to Favorite Brands Houston, Keith Conrad, FBH's general manager, noted that the companies' integration wasn't yet complete.
The police assume the shooter knew the victim; a large-scale sale had just finalized. Rumors have filled the vacuum left by the lack of facts.
"Rumors are flying around," Bishop said, his voice questioning the veracity of any and all. "And it'd be terrible if those rumors are true. Because now someone else is getting thrown under the bus, too."
FBH has yet to release an official statement on the matter, but Conrad, who said he didn't know Rowell personally, offered condolences.
"It's just a horrifically tragic event," he observed. "It's an obvious tragedy for family and friends, but other than that, we have no official statement. It's just a terrible situation."
And while Rowell's neighbors, lining that now-quiet block, offered nothing more than a bevy of "no comment's" and "not today's," Rowell's former and current friends want to make sure the man's name remains. Bishop, Rainey, and a handful of other craft proprietors will meet Wednesday to begin formalizing Rowell's legacy. The man who was always smiling -- the man who helped tether the beer-men and -women of Houston -- will be remembered beyond the patrons of Hay Merchant and West Hand and Pass & Provisions, and beyond the shock still ringing a network unused to such tragedy.
"I'm devastated, and so is entire craft community," Rainey said. "And it's a senseless thing -- there was no reason to happen. And we weep collectively for Ash and his family."
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