WALLA WALLA -- A 20-year-old Walla Walla man and known gang member was shot to death Tuesday in what is believed to be the first known gang-related homicide inside the city limits, police said.
As of this morning, no arrests had been made in Tuesday evening's shooting, which took place around 6 in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street. Police say Julio Cesar Martinez was walking in that area with a friend when they were approached by an undisclosed number of people believed to be rival gang members.
Martinez was shot twice. He died shortly after at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, officials said. Martinez's friend was not injured in the process. Officials are not releasing his name.
At least two other shots were fired in the assault, said police spokesman Tim Bennet. Those bullets hit a nearby home, he said. Police are not identifying the type of firearm that was used. Bennett said Martinez was not believed to have been armed at the time. No weapons were found at the scene, he said.
Whether the confrontation was part of a chance encounter was not clear this morning. Bennett said an unplanned brush among rival gang members would more typically result in glaring or flashing of signs. He said Martinez was known to have spent a lot of time in Walla Walla, but his last known address was in Milton-Freewater.
Officials are boosting their patrols to address possible retaliation in the wake of the death, Bennett said. He said special emphasis will be in areas where gang members are known to frequent. He said police conducted several consensual searches of homes Tuesday night. As of this morning no search warrants had been obtained.
He said authorities aren't at the point where they're identifying specific "suspects."
"It's all still developing and we're getting information from all over the area about this," he said.
Officers received at least two calls within a minute of each other at 5:58 p.m. Tuesday. Bennett said several people were out on the street when authorities arrived.
The area of Myrtle Street between Chestnut Street, Willow Street, Sprague Avenue and Seventh Avenue was quickly closed off to traffic as law enforcement secured the scene and searched for the suspects.
Walla Walla police received support from the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office, College Place Police and Washington State Patrol to close off the area and conduct searches. The city's Emergency Services Unit eventually arrived on scene and searched one residence where the suspects may have been hiding. A home in the 400 block of Sprague Avenue, just down the street from the shooting, was secured early on after the shooting, and remained closed past 8 p.m. as the unit prepared its search.
Residents living around the scene of the shooting reported hearing what sounded like fireworks, then seeing a bloodied man lying in the alley outside. By 7 p.m., the area around the alley had been taped off with yellow crime scene tape while officers searched and collected evidence. About 8 p.m., yellow tape was used to close off Myrtle at Sprague to prepare for the Emergency Services Unit operation.
As word spread in the neighborhood that the shooting victim had likely died, many expressed grief at the loss of life.
One woman, speaking in Spanish, described the shooting as sad and tragic.
"If he dies, for whatever reason, it's sad," she said. "He's still a human being."
Judy Thompson, a longtime resident of the area, said something needs to be done to stop gang activity and violence, particularly in the neighborhood. Some residents said the neighborhood had known affiliations to the city's largest gang, and they thought the shooting victim may have belonged to a rival gang.
Thompson said it would take the community getting involved and becoming active to really make a difference.
"If we don't get involved, we don't conquer it," she said. "If we don't stand up for society, we don't have nothing."
Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood said an autopsy for Martinez is scheduled for 1 p.m. today with Dr. Eric Kiesel, a Tacoma-based forensic pathologist.
Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the Police Department at 527-1960.
Reporter Andy Porter contributed to this story. Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8317. Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.