Tacoma police don’t know who fatally shot Abelino Gabriel-Delacruz in 1994, but they think they know why.
The 21-year-old and his friend had just finished playing basketball and were driving home Oct. 29, 1994, when they stopped at a traffic light in the Hilltop neighborhood.
Both men wore red bandanas as sweatbands on their heads, not knowing the local gang color was blue.
“They were basically lost and not familiar with that area of town,” police Detective Lindsey Wade said recently.
Gabriel-Delacruz and his friend, who was driving, saw a man with a gun in his hand standing in a group of about 10 others at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South 12th Street.
The man walked toward their car.
Gabriel-Delacruz yelled at his friend to drive but the friend hesitated, afraid to run the red light. He sped through the light after the shooter raised the gun and fired at least five shots.
As they fled, Gabriel-Delacruz told his friend he’d been shot several times. He later died at St. Joseph Medical Center.
“It looks like a random shooting,” Wade said. “There were no words or encounter with the shooter. It’s possible the shooter might have thought they were gang members from another set. There was no clear motive.”
Detectives came to the scene after learning about the 1:30 a.m. shooting, but nobody was there. Although a popular tavern stood on the corner and patrons likely heard the shooting, the crowd dispersed before police arrived.
The surviving friend told police about the group of 10 to 15 men standing on the sidewalk when they stopped their Mitsubishi at the light.
He recalled seeing a red van parked nearby, but didn’t know whether it was connected to the shooter.
Police had few leads to follow. It became another in a long line of drive-by shootings on Hilltop at that time.
Gabriel-Delacruz was described as a quiet, easygoing guy.
He worked for four years at a local Red Robin restaurant and shared an apartment with his friend, who worked at a Federal Way bakery.
Although the case went cold, detectives hope someone might feel more comfortable coming forward with information after so much time has passed.
The suspect was described as a black man, 24 to 26 years old, 5 feet 9 inches with a slim build. He was wearing a black baseball cap, long-sleeved blue and white plaid shirt and black pants.
To report a tip
Anyone with information about the 1994 killing of Abelino Gabriel-Delacruz is asked to call Tacoma police Detective Lindsey Wade at 253-591-5506.