The two daughters of a Connell murder suspect reportedly heard their father argue with his former wife's live-in boyfriend before three shots were fired.
Julio Cesar Hernandez then fled the apartment with the girls and dropped them off at his estranged brother's home, admitting he "did something stupid" and taking off before police were called, a Connell officer wrote in court documents.
Hernandez is wanted in the Jan. 17 death of Saul Ramos-Arrazate, 30.
A $1 million arrest warrant was signed this week by Judge Vic VanderSchoor. Hernandez has been charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and being an alien in possession of a firearm.
However, the 40-year-old man whose face has been spotlighted in the media as Hernandez actually younger and living in the United States under an assumed name.
Officer Miklar Gutierrez learned through the homicide investigation that Hernandez's given name is Juan Carlos Cortez.
The suspect's mother confirmed his true identity for police and said she believes her son's birth date is March 29, 1974, instead of Jan. 10, 1973.
He is charged under the Hernandez name, with Cortez listed as an alias.
Family members told police "that there's a good chance he will flee back to his native country, which is Mexico," since Hernandez has been in the country illegally, Gutierrez wrote in documents supporting the arrest warrant.
On Friday, Connell Chief Mike Kessler told the Herald that his department has no clue of Hernandez's whereabouts.
"We've not come up with any solid lead or evidence indicating that he has left the area. In that same token, we haven't shown that he is in the area," Kessler said. "The guy is in the wind. We have no idea where he is at."
Kessler also believes the likelihood that Hernandez could flee to Mexico "is pretty high" because he is not a U.S. citizen.
Dispatchers received a call at 8:29 p.m. Jan. 17 for an ambulance to be sent to the Pioneer Park Apartments, 401 E. Elm St.
Gutierrez said he arrived at the home to find a naked Ramos-Arrazate dead on the bedroom floor, shot several times with a .45-caliber pistol.
The apartment is leased by Elizabeth Vargas-Martinez, the victim's girlfriend and the ex-wife of the suspect.
Vargas-Martinez said Hernandez knew she was living with Ramos-Arrazate. She told police that she left Ramos-Arrazate in bed in the apartment while she went to a baby sitter's home to pick up her daughters.
The sitter told the mother that Hernandez had just left with the girls and was on his way to her apartment, court documents said.
Vargas-Martinez was fearful that her ex may harm her boyfriend, so she quickly made the two-minute drive back to her apartment only to see Hernandez running across the parking lot with the kids, documents said.
She rushed into her apartment and found Ramos-Arrazate on the floor with gunshot wounds.
Vargas-Martinez told Gutierrez that her ex-husband did not have permission to be in her apartment.
The girls apparently "went into the apartment with their dad and listened to the dialogue between (Hernandez and Ramos-Arrazate), and heard three shots," court documents said. "They realized their father, Hernandez, had just shot Ramos-Arrazate."
Ramos-Arrazate died of multiple gunshot wounds "within minutes" of being shot, according to Deputy Coroner Amanda Richmond. The autopsy was performed Sunday.
Through the investigation, Officer Gutierrez learned that Hernandez left the apartment and drove to his brother's home to drop off his daughters.
"Antonio Cortez was surprised to see him there since they did not get along," documents said.
Hernandez allegedly acknowledged doing something stupid and showed his brother a firearm. Antonio Cortez grabbed the gun and threw it across a nearby field and, when Hernandez tried to locate it, the brother said he was calling police.
Hernandez took off while his brother called 911 to notify law enforcement of the suspicious behavior, documents said.
The girls were reunited with their mother the morning of Jan. 18, Chief Kessler said.
Officers searched Hernandez's single-wide trailer on West Hawthorn Street and reportedly seized .45-caliber Winchester ammunition that matched a casing found at the crime scene. Hernandez lived there alone.
Franklin County sheriff's detectives helped Connell police collect evidence and process the shooting scene.
Police were tracking Hernandez with a cellphone.
It is known that early Jan. 18 he was in the Electric City area, which is about 115 miles north of Connell in Grant County.
His black 1988 Ford Mustang was found in Othello.
Ramos-Arrazate's death is the first homicide in Benton and Franklin counties in 2013, and the first in Connell in 19 years.
Chief Kessler said Friday that he didn't know what led to the shooting.
"We can only guess what a motive would be without being able to talk to our suspect, Mr. Hernandez, and figure it out," he said.
Hernandez is considered armed and dangerous.
Connell police are continuing to work the case, and have requested assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track down Hernandez.
"We're still pursuing leads and information, still plugging away at it," Kessler said.
People with information about the shooting or Hernandez's whereabouts are encouraged to call the Connell Police Department through the city at 509-234-2701, or 911 if it is an emergency.
w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer