Sixteen years after a Colorado Springs teenager was caught in the crossfire of a botched gang shooting, a fugitive suspected of pulling the trigger has finally turned up - in the obituary pages of an Alamosa newspaper.
Now the FBI is trying to determine if 43-year-old Socorro Anselmo Gutierrez is truly dead - as reported in Tuesday's edition of The Valley Courier - and the agency is looking to Mexican authorities to help obtain proof.
'We're looking for fingerprints or DNA or something that can verify this, ' said Dave Joly, a Denver-based FBI spokesman.
'We want closure for the family, but we also want to make sure this information is solid. '
Gutierrez, who was born in Denver, is one of two men wanted for first-degree murder in the May 24, 1997, death of Steven Eugene 'Gino ' Romero, a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head during a vehicle chase in east Colorado Springs. According to the FBI website, Gutierrez is believed to have fled to Mexico with another man still sought in the killing, Vinnicio Rafael Martinez.
According to the Colorado Springs police, Gutierrez and Martinez pumped 25 rounds into the car in which Romero was a backseat passenger, believing it was occupied by a rival gang member they had suspected in an earlier attack. In reality, their intended target had lent his car to one of Romero's friends, detectives testified at trials in Colorado Springs that led to convictions for two other men accused of playing a role in Romero's killing, driver Juan Candelaria and Ernie Medina.
Convicted in 1999 of first-degree murder, Candelaria, 37, is serving a life sentence plus 256 years. Medina, 39, was found guilty in 2003 of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 72 years.
The obituary printed in The Valley Courier reported that Gutierrez died April 29, without specifying where or providing his cause of death.
The slaying of Gino Romero led his mother, Jennifer Romero, to found the Mothers of Murdered Youth outreach group as a way of battling her grief, she told The Gazette in November.
'You lose all purpose in life. Every ambition, ' Romero recalled. She couldn't be reached for her reaction to reports of Gutierrez's death, but on Monday, she posted a picture of her son on the group's Facebook page over the words, 'I may not see you . but I feel you. '
In a written statement, Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Barbara Miller said: 'We are aware of the reports of the death of this individual however at this time we cannot confirm it. Our investigation remains open and ongoing. '
Gutierrez was charged in a November 2001 arrest warrant with first-degree murder. The FBI issued a fugitive-from-justice warrant a month later.
Joly declined to provide additional details about steps federal investigators are taking to verify Gutierrez's death, saying he didn't want to jeopardize an ongoing investigation. Gutierrez's obituary says he is survived by his mother, JoAnn Trujillo of Alamosa, and his father, Socorro Gutierrez-Aragon of Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, as well as four children, all living in Colorado.
Gutierrez was described as a 'skilled barber, boxer and enthusiastic business man. ' He graduated from Center High School in 1988, the obituary said.
The Alamosa County Coroner's Office said it had not been notified of the death.
A memorial service for Gutierrez is planned for Saturday in Alamosa through the Romero Funeral Home. A representative said she couldn't discuss specifics about the death listing.