Police investigators will meet Thursday to discuss a recent rash of Eastern Washington murders involving Hispanics and to find out if they are linked
Officers from about 20 counties and cites - including the Tri-Cities - will meet in Moses Lake to see if they can find leads, officials said Wednesday.
"We feel that there must be some connection," Grand County Chief Deputy Larry Boyd said Wednesday.
About 16 Hispanics have been murdered in the Mid-Columbia area since June. All but one murder in Umatilla and another in Idaho took place in Eastern Washington.
"This sudden change in atmosphere, leading to all these Hispanic deaths in such a short time has us concerned about what is going on," Boyd said. "We need to get agencies together to share information to see if they are related in any way. If not, we need to know that, too."
Boyd said the murders of a Hispanic man in Grant County in August and another in Umatilla in September appear related because the victims were uncle and nephew. The man shot to death in Umatilla was Isidro S. Torres, 34, of Pasco.
Next week's closed-door meeting was scheduled before two gunmen killed five Hispanic men at Medina's Body Shop in Pasco on Oct. 13, said Bob Keppel, chief criminal investigator for the state attorney general's office.
The suspects in the Pasco massacre also are Hispanic.
Pasco Police Sgt. Terry Trulson said a connection between the Pasco slayings and those in Grant County and Umatilla "has not even been remotely suggested."
The "intelligence meeting" at the Grant County Airport will enable investigators to share what they know and suspect about various crimes, official said.
"If there is some connection, maybe we can find some new angles to deal with the problem," said Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim.
The special meeting is being organized by the Grant County Sheriff's Office. It was not prompted by any particular murder, but by the number of recent homicides involving Hispanics, Boyd said.
Local officials who plan to attend include Trulson, Lathim, Kennewick Police Chief Bob Farnkoff and Capt. R. G. Waldner, and Pasco Police Chief Don Francis.
Meanwhile, Pasco police continue to work with federal and Mexican authorities in an effort to find the two suspects in the Pasco garage shootings.
"We do have good information that they are in Mexico but we don't have an address," Francis said of suspects Pedro Mendez and Vicente Mendez Ruiz. "We don't have some place (identified) in Mexico where police can go and find them."