For months, frightened Federal Way residents have looked for answers in a series of fatal shootings that came in quick succession in the spring.
Friday afternoon, city officials announced they’ve made progress in solving the crimes.
Mayor Jim Ferrell said Friday that investigators believe the deaths of three men — Jeffrey McLaren Jr., Frank Cohens Jr. and Adam Gutierrez — are linked. McLaren and Cohens are from Tacoma.
Because the investigation is ongoing, the mayor did not elaborate. He said at least one person connected to the killings is in custody on unrelated crimes.
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“We’ve got very good information, and we’re getting to a point where we’re going to be forwarding that to the prosecutor’s office,” Ferrell said. “We do believe that they are connected.”
Many in the South King County city packed a community forum on the killings in May and have taken to social media to express their fears about crime.
The mayor and Police Chief Andy Hwang released a statement Friday emphasizing their work toward addressing the uptick in violent crime. That came after gunshots struck a home Thursday night near a family vigil for Dennis Sloboda, 33, who was found shot to death in his car on Monday in what has initially been described as a road-rage killing.
In the statement, Hwang said investigators have made “good progress” investigating the killings and are working with regional law-enforcement agencies, as well as the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We have not released much information,” he said of the April and May homicide investigations. “I want the people of our community to know that the perpetrator(s) whom we believe are responsible” were subsequently arrested for unrelated crimes.
Ferrell added that “key witnesses” to the cases also were in custody for unrelated crimes.
Police are now targeting the west side of the city, where most of the violence occurred, and increasing the number of patrols there, the mayor said. And in the city’s next budget, Ferrell plans to recommend approval of funding for nine more officers, as well as for staff and equipment. That would bring the city’s total number of officers to 140, he said.
Also, the mayor said the Police Department will partner with other law-enforcement agencies as part of an action plan that includes some officers working overtime in the city.
On April 3, 19-year-old McLaren was found fatally shot at apartments at 33131 First Ave. SW, about two months after he was involved in a deadly shooting in Tacoma. According to a search warrant, McLaren fatally shot Dylan Lee Oman, 18, in Tacoma in January after Oman had tried to shoot McLaren in an “ambush-style attack.”
McLaren fired first; Pierce County prosecutors determined that he acted in self-defense and he was not charged.
On May 10, Cohens was found dead in a parked car.
Later that night, Gutierrez, 30, of Federal Way, was out running with his dog when he was shot numerous times. Cohens and Gutierrez were two of three men fatally shot within 48 hours in the city, raising alarm among residents.
The third man, Alex J. Kelley, 26, of Seattle, was smoking on a porch when he was killed at an apartment complex in the 1300 block of Southwest Campus Drive. Ferrell said investigators don’t believe that killing is connected to the others.
“Probably one of the most disturbing was Adam Gutierrez,” Ferrell said. “The apparent random nature — that was very disturbing and a tragedy for family and the community.”
Also, in February, 16-year-old Wesley Gennings was shot in the back of the head during an apparent marijuana robbery while sitting in his car in a Taco Bell parking lot in Federal Way. Two of his teenage acquaintances have been charged in that case.
Federal Way, a city of about 94,000 residents, had four homicides in 2015, according to crime statistics compiled by the FBI.
On Monday, Sloboda was found dead in the 32800 block of Hoyt Road Southwest, police said. On Thursday evening, a handful of people were gathered there for a family vigil when police received a report of gunfire about a half-mile away, according to Cathy Schrock, a Federal Way police spokeswoman. Bullets had struck a home.
Acknowledging the public’s concerns, Ferrell said he went to the damaged home Thursday night.
He described such a shooting as “horrifying,” adding that the gunfire does not appear to be related to the vigil or to Sloboda’s death.