Special Reports

Airport inquiry leaves murders up in air

Pasco police have not yet determined from an investigation last week whether murder suspect Vicente Mendez Ruiz left the area by plane, said Capt. Doug Chambers on Sunday.

Chambers said the airport check "found nothing conclusive."

"We haven't discounted it, but it's not a promising lead," he said.

Police inspected boarding tickets from two of Wednesday's PSA flights on Thursday, said a PSA employee who was present during that inspection. The flights were a 6:10 a.m. departure for San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, and a 2:22 p.m. flight with the same stops, he said.

Police have shown pictures of Ruiz to airport workers and employees of all airlines using the airport, Chambers said.

Chambers said "things tend to discredit" the chance Ruiz took a flight out of the Tri-Cities. One ticket which drew police interest, for example, was bought outside the Tri-Cities before the shootings last Tuesday night, he said.

Chambers said police have not yet talked to the crews of flights leaving the airport.

He said police expect to meet today to plan strategy for catching Ruiz, 19, and a second suspect, Pedro Mendez, who is between 22 and 25.

The two allegedly entered the Medina Body Shop in east Pasco last Tuesday night and shot six Hispanic men working inside. Five died.

So far, Pasco police have placed and "emphasis on identification, not apprehension," Chambers said, including interviewing witnesses, coordinating autopsies, and finding friends and relatives of people involved. It took police an entire day to identify Mendez, who was named as a suspect Friday, he noted.

Bob Williamson, airport security supervisor, said he met with security employees on Thursday and asked whether they saw anyone suspicious board flights at the airport since the shootings. Williamson said he called police after two employees said they were uneasy about people they saw boarding flights.

Williamson said he was surprised security employees were not contacted by police sooner.

Pasco police have a limited number of officers, were tied up with other aspects of the murder investigation, and "just didn't have the manpower to check everything out at once," Chambers said.

In other developments:

Clifford Medina, the body shop's owner, said Sunday he has raised the $2,000 to $2,500 needed to send the bodies of four murder victims to Guadalajara, Mexico. The money came from family and friends of the victims, he said. Those four are Francisco Venegas Cortes, 21 of Kennewick, and Elicio Guzman Lamas, 20, Misael Barajas, 21, and Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20, all of Pasco.

A rosary service for the fifth victim, Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, of Pasco, is tentatively planned for Tuesday night at 7 p.m., said Jerry Rost of Greenlee Funeral Home in Pasco. The service will be either at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Pasco or the funeral home depending on whether the church is available, Rost said.

The two mechanics who exited the body shop with the two gunmen before the gunmen returned and shot the six men remaining inside had worked there for about one week before the murders, said Medina. One mechanic told Medina the day after the shootings that he knew Ruiz, but did not know any reason for the shootings, according to Medina.