Prior to shooting and killing Officer Jesus Cordova at the north end of Nogales on Friday afternoon, suspect David Ernesto Murillo reportedly attempted and executed several carjackings and a robbery east of city limits.
His apparent victims included a taxi driver, a Nogales High School teacher and two tourists from Minnesota, all of whom said they were threatened with a rifle. The cabbie and tourists were additionally threatened with gunshots, and the tourists were robbed of their rental car.
“The preliminary information that we have is that there was a carjacking somewhere on Patagonia Road. That’s Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction,” NPD Chief Roy Bermudez said during a news conference Friday night at City Hall.
“Sheriff’s officers responded,” he continued. “To my knowledge, they lost the individual. Somehow or other he made it into town and he carjacked a car right next to Circle K by Mi Casa Trailer Park on North Grand Avenue.”
That carjacking led to a fatal encounter in front of Villa’s Market in which Murillo, a 28-year-old Nogales native and recent resident of Tempe, allegedly shot and killed Cordova, 44, before reportedly carjacking two more vehicles, fleeing and surrendering to law enforcement at the Mariposa Manor Trailer Park.
Despite the array of crimes committed by a desperate and armed assailant running amok on State Route 82, also known as Patagonia Road, the Nogales Police Department does not appear to have been fully aware of the danger headed toward its jurisdiction. While authorities from federal, state and local agencies all reportedly attended to victims east of the city, only the Arizona Department of Public Safety directly alerted NPD to the situation, Bermudez told the NI on Saturday.
That information, received at 2:12 p.m. Friday, advised that there had been an attempted carjacking one mile east of the airport, or approximately six miles east of the city’s eastern limits, in which a subject wearing a blue shirt pointed a gun at a white van, then took off running south.
“That’s all the information that was given out from DPS,” Bermudez said, adding: “I couldn’t tell you how DPS got that information. I don’t know if that information came through the Sheriff’s Office Communications Center or how it got there.”
The details were relayed to NPD officers, the chief said, “but that’s basically all the information we got. ”
The call NPD later received about the carjacking near the Circle K at the north end of the city – the call that led to Cordova trying to initiate a traffic stop on the suspect – came in at 2:41 p.m. from a citizen advising that a male in a blue shirt and Khaki pants had stolen his black Jaguar, according to an NPD dispatch report.
“So I guess there was no two-and-two put together because the guy was way out there, a mile east of the airport and all of a sudden he shows up somehow or the other – we’re not even sure if it was the same one at that time,” Bermudez said.
“There was no nexus as far as to how this guy’s going to get running from a mile east of the airport to down here.”
A Sheriff’s Office dispatch log shows that a call came in at 2:01 p.m. from someone reporting that a male subject wearing black clothing jumped out of what he thought was an SUV and pointed an assault rifle at a silver truck. The caller said the white SUV had been parked sideways on SR 82, blocking traffic, when the gunman stepped out. He said he didn’t see where the subject went.
The call was labeled “agency assist/ city.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Gerardo Castillo said Monday that his office contacted DPS about the incident at 2:08 p.m. on Friday, then contacted NPD at 2:12 p.m. The NPD dispatcher who answered said thanks and noted that they had already been alerted by DPS, he said. The Sheriff’s Office also contacted the U.S. Border Patrol at that point, Castillo said.
Castillo and Sheriff Antonio Estrada both insisted that their deputies neither made contact with nor lost track of the suspect.
Murillo’s crime spree appears to have begun with the attempted armed robbery of a taxi driver on State Route 82 between Nogales and Patagonia Lake State Park.
Rosa de Jesus Hernandez, who operates J. Hernandez Taxi with her husband Jesus out of their home in Nogales, said her husband received a call around 1 p.m. Friday from a man looking for a ride.
“I heard that he called and that he asked the price, and (Jesus) said he would do 40, because he asked him, ‘Are you going to town, or are you going to the lake?’” she said. “And he said he was going to the lake. So he said, ‘OK then it’s going to be 40,’ and he said, ‘Come for me then.’”
Rosa Hernandez wasn’t sure where her husband picked the man up, but the next she heard from Jesus was when he called to say that he’d been assaulted, but that he was OK.
Even so, she said, her husband had yet to make it home as of Saturday morning. The stress of the incident caused the 59-year-old cabbie to suffer a heart attack, and after he called police to report the incident, authorities took him to the hospital where he was in good condition, family members said.
When he spoke to his wife on Friday, she said, Jesus told her that at some point after he picked up his customer, the man told him that he needed money and was going to rob him.
“He said, ‘What are you going to rob me of if I don’t have any money?’” she said.
The suspect responded, “I’m going to kill you,” and took out a rifle.
He fired a shot into the dashboard area, near the radio, and the strong smell of gasoline suggested the bullet had punctured a fuel line, she said.
Jesus put his hand on the door handle, stopped the taxi in the middle of the road, jumped out and ran. The suspect did not fire at him as he fled, she said.
Another narrow escape
Libby McAfee, a teacher at Nogales High School, said she was driving home from the #RedForEd demonstration on Mariposa Road in Nogales to her home in Elgin sometime around 2 p.m. when she was nearly carjacked by a gunman wearing a flak jacket-like vest near Milepost 7 on State Route 82.
She said she saw a large white taxi van with orange lettering parked in the middle of the road, partially blocking both lanes. Then, she said, the driver got out of the taxi and tried to wave cars down.
“Suddenly, the sliding door flies open off the taxi and a young kid with a semi-automatic (is) out pointing his gun at me,” McAfee said.
She said the gunman was an approximately 5-foot-9 Hispanic male in his early-to-mid-20s who spoke clear English. He had curly brown hair and was wearing long pants and a short-sleeved shirt.
Murillo’s driver’s license lists him as 5-foot-8, 197 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
McAfee said the gun-toting man yelled “get out of the (expletive) truck” multiple times.
She said because the man was wearing a flak jacket-like vest, she at first assumed he was a law enforcement official.
When he didn’t identify himself, “I realized it was not a good guy,” she said.
“And then he comes over right at me, my window was down, and put his gun into my face and said, ‘Get out of the truck, I need your (expletive) truck.’”
McAfee said she told the man she’d put the vehicle in park, but he reached in to try to open the locked door.
“And then I got stupid, pissed, mad, I don’t know, and I said, ‘No I can’t do that,’ and I rolled his hand up in the window and sped off,” she said.
McAfee said she heard two shots into the air or away from her as she called 911 and sped away until she stopped near Patagonia Lake.
She said the man “looked pretty desperate,” like someone was after him.
“I’m doing OK but I’m just heartbroken over Officer Cordova. I knew him,” McAfee said.
Ranch guests victimized
Kevin Dauenbaugh said he and his wife Teresa, who were visiting the area from Minnesota, were driving from Nogales to a local guest ranch at around 1:30 or 2 p.m. Friday when they saw a taxi van with its sliding doors open and blocking the middle of the road near Milepost 10 of State Route 82. A semi-truck and another vehicle were also stopped on the side of the road.
“We thought we were coming up on an accident scene,” Dauenbaugh said. So he pulled over.
A man carrying what he described as an “AK assault rifle” and wearing cargo pants, a black shirt, vest, and a brace attached to his arm approached their rental SUV, a black Buick Envision.
Like McAfee, Dauenbaugh first assumed the suspect was a law enforcement official.
“Down in that territory, you have Border Patrol, you have narcotics (officers), you have all of these guys, he looked official, so we didn’t move,” he said.
“When we rolled down the window, he’s yelling, ‘Man with a gun, man with a gun.’ The reality is, it was him,” Dauenbaugh said.
He said the suspect pointed the gun at his head, and then shot next to the car to make him and his wife get out of the vehicle faster. Then he took off with the SUV, which still had Teresa’s purse and the couple’s phones inside.
“As (the suspect) pulled away, he had the gun on me at all times out the driver side window and then he left the scene” towards Nogales, he said.
Dauenbaugh said the drivers of the semi-truck and other vehicle – who he thinks stopped to help with what looked like a car accident – fled once they realized the suspect was unstable.
Unable to call for help, the couple walked east on SR 82 before quickly finding two Forest Service employees helping a man who was lying down in a ditch, Dauenbaugh said. The employees, a man and a woman, were giving the man in the ditch water and calling 911.
The Forest Service employees told Dauenbaugh that the man, speaking in Spanish, told them that he was the driver of the taxi van and was afraid he was shot after the gunman fired inside the taxi, disabling the vehicle.
Dauenbaugh said after five minutes, four or five sheriff’s deputies arrived and gathered statements and a description of the gunman, which they shared over the radio.
He said all of the deputies left towards Nogales once they received a call that other law enforcement found someone who matched the description of the suspect.
“All of them took off. So then it was all of us standing there again,” Dauenbaugh said. “I thought that they’d at least leave (one deputy) but you know, in the heat of the moment, you don’t know what’s going on.”
He said he was especially concerned that an ambulance hadn’t arrived to help the taxi driver.
Dauenbaugh said a good samaritan, a male truck driver from San Diego, pulled over and suggested the group put cones around the bullet casings and items that fell out of the taxi.
“We started securing the evidence on the scene because somebody was going to run it over,” he said. “There was no traffic control, there was no real order.”
DPS arrived 10 minutes later, Dauenbaugh said, with an ambulance arriving “well after” that.
He said the troopers shut down traffic and the group – the Dauenbaughs, the taxi driver, Forest Service workers and good samaritan – was told to wait until DPS’s major crime unit arrived from Phoenix.
All together, they were at the scene for about eight or nine hours, he said, adding that the “super” troopers provided water while the Forest Service brought food from McDonald’s to the group.
Dauenbaugh said their stolen rental vehicle was recovered at the Medicom business on Grand Avenue in Nogales, near the Circle K and Mi Casa RV Travel Park.
Their cell phones and his wife’s purse were found in the SUV, but some cash was missing, Dauenbaugh said.
His bigger concern was for the victims.
“Our heart bleeds for the widow and the children,” he said.