When he heard the crash in the night — brakes screeching, cars colliding — Javier Sanmiguel ran outside to help.

He died trying to help.

Outside in the dark, a man with a gun huddled in the back of a crashed car. When neighbors came running to the rescue, the man opened fire. One of his bullets struck Sanmiguel in the head, killing him outside the house where his four small children were tucked in bed, while his wife, Kayla, was still on the line with the 911 operator.

Javier, his grieving family would later write in a statement to the stunned community, was "a man of deep commitment to his Catholic faith and his family. Helping others came naturally, so it comes as no surprise to those who knew him that Javier died like he lived, selflessly serving others."

The good Samaritan, the headlines called him.

The parable of the good Samaritan was the Gospel of Luke's answer to the question of what it means to love your neighbor. The description was some consolation to staff and students at St. Paul Seminary, where Kayla Sanmiguel once worked.

They prayed the rosary for Javier last week and pondered the sorrowful mystery of his killing. Sometimes helpers get hurt. Sometimes kindness is repaid with cruelty.

"It's wrong, it's unjust, it's not fair, it's not right. All of that is true," said the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, rector of St. Paul Seminary.

The Samaritan came across a man, beaten and robbed on the road — a man from a culture that held him in contempt. Instead of passing by, the Samaritan reached out, sacrificing his time, his travel plans, his comfort and his money, to get the injured man to safety and nurse him back to health.

"The good Samaritan is one who has compassion on the neighbor," Taphorn said. Compassion, from the Latin, meaning "to suffer with."

"One who has compassion enters into the suffering of another," Taphorn said. "A Christian wants to imitate Jesus. [Sanmiguel] wanted to go out and alleviate suffering. The tragedy was, he himself became the victim of a horrendous crime, and his family is forever changed."

It was the community's turn to reach out. By Friday, a GoFundMe effort for the Sanmiguel family was more than halfway to its $250,000 goal.

The next time there's a crash in the night, will the neighbors hesitate? Will anyone reach out to help, knowing that bad things can and do happen to good Samaritans?

Scientists have looked into it.

In a study published in American Psychologist this summer, researchers studied CCTV footage from large cities in England, South Africa and Amsterdam, searching for trouble. They found hundreds of incidents of conflict. Nearly all of them ended the same way. The good Samaritans stepped in.

Nine times out of 10, if there were no police or paramedics around, the bystanders rushed to the rescue. The cameras caught individuals and groups of people as they stepped between people in conflict, soothed victims, pulled aggressors away.

Ninety percent of the time, someone took a risk. Ninety percent of the time, someone helped.

The world is a better, more compassionate place because of people like Javier Sanmiguel.

It's a better place because of Wayzata police officer William Mathews, who stopped one day to clear debris off the highway so it wouldn't cause an accident. He was run down and killed by a woman who was high on drugs and talking on her phone as she barreled down Hwy. 12.

The world's a better place because of Christopher Schultz, who jumped into Detroit Lake this summer after his 3-year-old son tumbled off a bridge. He drowned saving his little boy.

He would have done the same for a stranger's child, his friends and family agreed afterward. That's just the kind of person he was.

Good people died while trying to do good. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.

But it probably won't stop the next good Samaritan from pulling over to help someone change a flat on the side of the road, or push a car up an icy hill, or rush outside to help if a car crashes right in front of their house.

That's just the kind of people they are.

To support the Sanmiguel family, go to gofundme.com/f/sanmiguelfamily.

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com 612-673-4008 • Twitter: @stribrooks