WALLA WALLA - A 20-year-old Walla Walla man and known gang member was shot to death Tuesday by apparent rival gang members, according to city police. No arrests had been made as of early Wednesday morning.
Police say Julio Cesar Martinez was walking in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street when he and a friend were approached by several people, and at least four shots were fired. Two bullets struck Martinez, while the friend was uninjured, police said.
The shooting marks the first homicide by firearm in the city for several years.
The shooting is believed to have occurred about 6 p.m. 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 from their homes, then seeing a bloodied man lying in the alley outside. By 7 p.m., the are 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 would 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 long-time resident of the area, said something needed 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."
Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the Police Department at 527-1960.