Special Reports

Police seek 19-year-old in Pasco killings

A warrant charging a 19-year-old man with murdering five people and trying to kill another was issued Wednesday as police sought two men for a Tuesday night massacre at a Pasco auto shop.

Vicente Mendez Ruiz, whose hometown was not known, was charged in Franklin County Superior Court, although police did not where he was. He recently had been staying with a brother in Pasco.

Ruiz was identified by the lone survivor the massacre as one of two Hispanic men who walked Medina's Body Shop at 1101 East A St. at about 7 p.m. Tuesday and opened fire, said Pasco police Sgt. Terry Trulson.

All the victims were Hispanic.

Police idd not know the name of the second assailant or his whereabouts, said Trulson, who is leading the investigation.

Pasco Detective Henry Montelongo interviewed two witnesses Wednesday night who said they saw Ruiz and another man enter the garage before the shootings.

A description of the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Ruiz was sent to police agencies across the region.

"If he has left the area, be will turn up somewhere," said Trulson. "But if he goes back to Mexico, we've got a problem."

"I'm a realist," Trulson said when asked if he's optimistic about capturing Ruiz. "I knew if we didn't find him right off the bat he would know we were looking for him. He certainly isn't going to pop out of the woodwork and turn himself in immediately."

The dead men were identified by police as:

-- Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, of 620 S. Owen St., Pasco.

-- Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of 721 S. Olympia St., Kennewick.

-- Eliceo Guzman Lamas, 20, of 520 S. Elm St., Pasco.

-- Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, about 20, Pasco.

-- Misael Barajas, 22, of 520 S. Elm St., Pasco.

-- Jesse Salas Rocio, 20, of 520 S. Elm St., was treated for a gunshot wound to his right side Wednesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco and taken to the Franklin County Jail. A court hearing will be held today to determine whether Rocio will be held by police as a material witness or released, said Prosecuting Attorney Dennis De Felice.

Trulson said police had not determined a motive for the slayings, but added there is no evidence to link the killings to drugs. He speculated, however, that it "certainly could have been" a drug deal gone sour.

"We have to look at this crime last night as possibly being linked to drugs," said Police Chief Don Francis. "In speculation, what in the world would make two men go into a garage and mow down six people? It was not over a lovers' triangle. It almost seems like it somehow has to have a drug connection in some way we have not determined."

Trulson ruled out a gang war as the reason for the killings.

Trulson said he did not know whether the slayings were linked to the arrests Tuesday night by federal agents of seven people allegedly involved in a drug money laundering operation in the Tri-Cities.

A federal drug official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the killings may have been indirectly connected to the drug busts. "What happened in Pasco Monday night (the murders) was not a result of what we were doing, but a result of what people thought we were doing," the official said. "There have been hints that the killings may have been in retaliation, and you get retaliation when people talk."

Early Wednesday, police fired tear gas into an apartment at 1530 N. Ninth Ave., in Pasco where they believed Ruiz was staying. Ruiz was not there, but police found "large quantities of marijuana and cocaine," Trulson said.

They also confiscated at the scene a late-model blue Mazda RX7 with Washington license plates attached but with Nevada plates in the back of what is believed to have been the getaway car.

"We're still trying to figure out what that means," Trulson said.

After obtaining a search warrant for the car, police found a receipt from a Pasco sporting goods store where ammunition was purchased for a large-caliber rifle and medium-caliber pistol that apparently were used in the shootings, Francis said.

Police will question store employees today about who bought the ammunition, he added.

David Gamino, the apartment manager, said Ruiz had been at the apartment after the shooting but before police arrived and may have slipped past police just before the tear gas was released.

Police staked out the apartment for about two hours before storming it around 6 a.m.., Trulson said.

"We got information that he had stayed there in the past," Trulson said.

It is possible that only one of the six men inside the garage was the target and that the other five wen shot because they were there, Trulson said.

"It doesn't appear that they were forced to lay down in execution style," he said. "According to the witness (Rocio), the men came through the door and started shooting."

Asked how many shots were fired, Trulson said "a whole bunch of rounds." When pressed, he said ''more than 20." The weapons were a semi-automatic rifle and possibly a handgun, but Trulson declined to be more specific.

"We know who did it," Trulson said. "Now the problem is finding that guy (Ruiz) and getting an identity on the other and making an arrest."

An all-points bulletin issued for Ruiz said he has brown eyes, black hair and that he may be driving a blue 1985 Camaro or an army-green 1974 Ford pickup truck.

The shooting happened while the six victims were doing body work on a stripped-down Mercury Cougar in the garage, Trulson said. Two men walked into the garage, looked around, left and returned moments later and began shooting.

Four men died at the scene and a fifth died one hour later in the emergency room at Our Lady of Lourdes Health Center. Rocio drove to the police station after the shooting.

Rocio recognized Ruiz as one of the gunmen because the two men were acquaintances, Trulson said.

Francis said there were no signs of a struggle and the bodies were sprawled on the floor on the side of a car away from the doorway. Some of the victims were shot in the head, he said.

Autopsies will be performed today by Dr. John Howard, a Seattle pathologist.