APD detective sheds new light on teen's murder
The trail which led Anchorage police to charge two suspects in the April shooting death of an East High School student relied heavily on surveillance video and tips from the public, according to an exclusive KTVA interview with a senior investigator.
Lt. John McKinnon, head of the Anchorage Police Department’s robbery/homicide unit, told KTVA that Leroy Lawrence, 17, was fatally struck in the head at about 3:30 p.m. on April 7, when he was caught in a crossfire on the 400 block of Irwin Street in Mountain View.
McKinnon said murder defendants Anthony Salazar, 16, and 20-year-old Haitim Mahir Taha, who remains at large, had “initiated a drive-by shooting” against another group of people in the area who returned fire. One of the men in that group was also struck in the leg and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The chain of events which ended in Lawrence’s death began, McKinnon said, at an Oceanview home which two people, later identified as Salazar and Taha, had tried to burglarize on the morning of the shooting – an incident captured by a surveillance camera on a neighboring residence.
“The burglary was cut short; the people that were there left the location, and the security camera caught the car they were driving,” McKinnon said. “It was a silver (Chevrolet) Monte Carlo, and it was distinct because it had a dent in the left bumper area.”
McKinnon said Salazar was apparently injured during the attempted break-in, suffering a cut to his hand for which he received medical attention at a local hospital. At the hospital, Salazar and Taha had a hostile run-in with a group of people who knew them.
“There was not a physical confrontation, but sort of a disrespectful interaction between the two parties,” McKinnon said.
Following that encounter, police spokesman MJ Thim said, the other group of people then left the hospital in a white Ford Escape.
“The group leaves in the Escape, and Salazar and Taha get into the Monte Carlo and begin following them around town,” Thim said.
At about 3:30 p.m., McKinnon said, the group of people from the Escape had gotten out of their vehicle on Irwin Street. The Monte Carlo circled the block once, appearing on surveillance video at two area buildings, while Lawrence was walking north to visit a friend’s home for a birthday party.
“He happens to be caught in the crossfire from when this vehicle comes around a second time, and bullets come from the silver Monte Carlo and strike the people who are standing by the white Escape,” McKinnon said. “And then there’s an exchange of gunfire back in the other direction, and it’s at that time that we then see the silver Monte Carlo head south on Irwin Street.”
Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion said Tuesday that it wasn’t clear whether Salazar or Taha fired the shot that killed Lawrence. Both were charged with first-degree murder, however, under state law allowing collective culpability for killings committed jointly by “principals and accomplices.”
“They basically both acted with intent, but because they acted together we don’t have to prove who fired,” Campion said.
After the shooting, the Monte Carlo headed to one of the suspects’ residences in Muldoon. McKinnon said a nearby resident’s surveillance footage, which was given to APD following Lawrence’s death, showed Salazar and Taha still in the vehicle.
Two other sightings of the Monte Carlo occurred later on the day of the shooting, including one by a police officer after initial reports of a similar vehicle being linked to the murder. That officer reported the sighting, recorded on the cruiser’s dashboard camera video near Boniface Parkway and Tudor Road, but didn’t pull the car over because initial descriptions of the suspect vehicle weren’t precise.
McKinnon said the suspects were also spotted at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant on Huffman Road, by the Oceanview homeowner whose residence was targeted in the morning burglary.
“The homeowner then feels like those guys are suspicious and, ‘By the way that one guy’s got a big cut on his hand with a bandage on it,’ and that person then takes a picture of these two at the Carl’s Jr.,” McKinnon said.
Police initially released details on the Escape and Monte Carlo soon after the shooting, announcing Salazar’s arrest in July. Those statements brought in further video from the public, McKinnon said – continuing a welcome trend for homicide detectives.
“It does play a huge role in solving these cases, (including) this one in particular,” McKinnon said. “At least three to four key pieces of footage show us where people were, what they were wearing, what was going on at the time – so it helps pinpoint their location.”
Leroy’s father, Gene Lawrence, said that despite the new detail it’s hard to understand his son’s death.
“They made a mistake -- they weren’t even shooting at Leroy, they were shooting at somebody else,” Lawrence said. “Kids make mistakes, and at one point I want to be angry and at the same time I want to be forgiving, I want to forgive him – but it's rough, it's rough.”
Lawrence attended a second hearing for Salazar’s arraignment, which began Monday and continued into Tuesday.
“I just want to reach out to the other children who may be thinking of shooting somebody,” Lawrence said. “This is final; there is no coming back from it. If you are going to think about it, don’t do it – you could wind up in court fighting for your life, fighting for your life for trying to take someone else’s.”
At Salazar's arraignment Tuesday, Leroy's father, Gene, gives an emotional interview to KTVA's Lauren Maxwell. Watch it below.
Lauren Maxwell contributed information to this story.