Hickman, a local rancher, businessman and lifelong Beeville resident, was shot and killed early that day, apparently as he was leaving his ranch on Wofford Lane east of the U.S. Highway 181 Bypass.
Family friends said Hickman was found lying on the ground outside his vehicle bleeding from a single gunshot wound to the head.
Rumors spread immediately, suggesting that Hickman had been killed when a branch struck him. Others suggested that he had possibly taken his own life.
Authorities who had been at the scene and who wished to remain unnamed said there was no gun near the victim, ruling out the possibility of a self-inflicted gunshot. One investigator said the death had to be a homicide.
Hickman had been working at the Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance operation at the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex and was one of the employees who was losing his job there because of the facility’s closing. But family friends said he had found another job.
Deputy Investigator Adam Levine of the Bee County Sheriffs Office, who is leading the investigation, said Friday morning there were no new developments in the case.
Levine said deputies are working on a number of leads but no suspects had been identified as yet.
According to deputies who were at the scene, two Texas Rangers and a special ranger for the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association were joined by Deputy Investigator John Davis and Deputy Sgt. Kevin Behr at the scene.
Meanwhile, those who knew Hickman were shocked and wondering who could have shot the man they had known for decades.
“He was a year ahead of me,” said John Longoria of Corpus Christi. “I played football with him.”
Longoria said he had always known Hickman as a hard worker and he would have never thought he would have an enemy.
“It was just heartbreaking to hear it,” Longoria said of the news. He had seen Hickman recently while on a visit here. “I feel for the family,” Longoria said.
Beeville businessman Sid Elder also was a year ahead of Hickman in school, and he played football with him for the Trojans.
“He was a tall, lanky guy, and he kind of got picked on because he was so skinny,” Elder said.
Hickman took the ribbing well, Elder said. “He worked as hard as anybody.”
“He was the nicest guy in the world,” Elder added. “I can’t imagine him having enemies. I hope they catch the rascals that did it.”
Another classmate, Sylvia Garcia-Smith, also was shocked to hear the news.
“He would’ve given the shirt off his back to help someone,” Smith said. “He had such a big heart. He never said a bad thing about anyone.”
“I’m almost speechless,” said businessman Jim Crumrine. He had known Hickman at least 30 years. “We truly lost one of the pillars of our community.”
Crumrine called the victim “one of the nicest, most compassionate men I know. I literally knew I could call him at any time and he would be there to help. I’ll miss him as a friend.”
“He was one of the good guys,” said former classmate Carol Riley Cain. “He was always nice, always polite and always willing to lend a helping hand whenever he thought it was needed,” she said. “He even invited my grandchildren to ride horses at his ranch and that included the then 4-year-old.”
“They thought the world of him, as did we all,” Cain said. “My family will miss him greatly. He leaves a big hole in Bee County.”
Thursday morning a steady stream of vehicles could be seen driving toward the house on the Hickman Ranch. In a nearby pasture, a herd of goats was seen grazing.
A sign on the gate said that Hickman was a member of the American Meat Goat Association. The organization’s web site listed him as being on their Texas board of directors.
Hickman also ran the family business, Hilltop Mobile Home Ranch located east of the U.S. 181 Bypass.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Galloway & Sons Funeral Home.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.