Investigation continues in slaying of 3 police officers by carjacker
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Puerto Rico Police Bureau officials said Tuesday that the investigation into the killing of three police officers Monday afternoon on the Ramón Baldorioty de Castro Expressway by a carjacker was ongoing, as unsubstantiated reports circulated on social media that the alleged perpetrator was found dead at the Luis Llorens Torres public housing complex.
Assistant Superintendent of Criminal Investigations Col. Rolando Trinidad Hernández told members of the press that authorities are still collecting information and confidential tips in order to solve the case.
“We are in the process of picking up security footage from various buildings around the routes where the incident took place, to analyze each video and to find value,” Trinidad Hernández said.
Regarding the individual who was found dead Tuesday at San José Street, intersection with Muñoz Rivera Avenue, with a piece of cardboard that had a written message that read “I am responsible for the murder of the police. Here it is,” the colonel said that even though the deceased person had physical features similar to those of the suspect in the case, categorically speaking they could not yet identify the individual as the perpetrator because the body at the time was under examination by the Forensic Sciences Institute.
Later Tuesday, authorities identified the deceased body with the cardboard as 25-year-old Ponce resident David Emanuel Rivera Batiz.
The individual was reported to be wearing gray shorts and a black shirt. He had a tattoo that read “Sophia” and another on his right leg with a caravel design.
Meanwhile, Forensic Science Institute Executive Director María Conte Miller informed via written statements that autopsies on the three murdered officers were complete.
“All autopsy protocols will be available tomorrow [today] for the authorities investigating the case,” said Conte Miller.
Meanwhile, it was later reported that while the main culprit was wearing gray shorts during the commission of the crime, the dead person was allegedly wearing khaki shorts.
“We focused on the search for the people responsible for this event at the Luis Llorens Torres [public housing complex] as the vehicle that was stolen from the crime scene was left there,” Trinidad Torres said.
It was later revealed that police arrived at the scene in response to a confidential phone call.
“We seized firearms, controlled substances, we arrested people in violation of the Controlled Substances Act of Puerto Rico; and there was, within this series of interventions, the cooperation of many citizens who observed what had happened there and provided information,” the police official said. “Among the information received was that the person responsible for this event had been killed and [the body] dumped near the YMCA,” he said at the time.
On the other hand, although they did not name him as the main suspect, the police said Carlos Cotto Cruz, a 33-year-old man from Caguas who remains a federal fugitive wanted since 2019 for violation of probation in a firearms and drug trafficking case, is still a person of interest.
When a member of the press asked if Cotto Cruz’s physical features matched those of the deceased person found at Llorens Torres, Trinidad Hernández said they were not a match.
Meanwhile, a visibly shaken Police Commissioner Antonio López said the victims’ families “are entitled to one year’s salary for funeral expenses” and psychological help.
When asked, the Police chief said he would tell active officers to “honor your comrades.”
“They lost their lives fulfilling their duty, and that deserves honor,” López said. “We have to work for Puerto Rico, and I make that call to all citizens; that’s not only the Police’s job, it’s everyone’s job, because like everyone who loses loved ones … I lost one, too … we need to wake up and help authorities to solve these crimes if we really want to find peace.”
Puerto Rico Public Safety Secretary Alexis Torres said the police are working with federal authorities to “find the responsible ones who committed this crime.”
A fourth police officer was reported to have been injured during the incident, it was reported later by the agency to be in stable condition.
“We will keep investigating to solve this case and bring these individuals up to the final consequences,” Torres said. “We have four families, four fathers, four mothers, siblings, offspring, wives, that are suffering the loss of their loved ones today.”
“We are going to draw the line here,” the Public Safety chief said. “We are going to unite as resources, both state and federal, to bring the message to the streets: This will not happen again.”
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia declared three days of mourning for the death of commonwealth police officer Luis Marrero Díaz and municipal police officers Luis Salamán Conde and Eliezer Hernández Cartagena. Meanwhile, San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo ordered the flags at city buildings to be flown at half-staff for three days.
Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández said the judicial system must be strengthened “to eliminate the environment of impunity the country lives in.”
“The government must understand the social breakdown and the crisis of values that we currently suffer as a people,” the Villalba mayor said. “For this, [the Police] must create an advisory council that includes groups representing the country’s police, as well as the island Bar Association, social workers and specialists in human behavior.”
The incident took place Monday afternoon at Roberto Clemente Street in Carolina as a white Hyundai Accent crashed another vehicle.
Once the authorities arrived at the accident, the man went on the run and began shooting with a long firearm once he arrived near the Embassy Suites Hotel.
The exchange of fire occurred at 3:50 p.m, when a municipal motorcyclist was wounded by a gunshot on the PR-26 highway.
Two more policemen received gunshot wounds and another was hit by the driver on a hit-and-run.
Two state officers were transferred to the Ashford Hospital and later died. Meanwhile, a third state agent and a municipal officer were transported to the Río Piedras Medical Center. The latter died, becoming the third fatal victim.