DENVER — An illegal alien from Mexico who worked in a restaurant co-owned by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was the target of an international manhunt yesterday as the prime suspect in the shooting death of a police officer.
Raul Garcia-Gomez, 19, is suspected of shooting two Denver police officers at about 1 a.m. Sunday after they refused to let him re-enter a baptismal party. Detective Donald Young, 44, died at the scene after being shot from behind three times in the back and head.
The second officer, Detective John Bishop, was wearing a bulletproof vest and survived a gunshot to the back. Both officers were off-duty and working security for the party at the Salon Ocampo in Denver.
Garcia-Gomez had worked for about 10 months as a dishwasher at the Cherry Cricket, a Denver bar and restaurant that is one of 10 owned or co-owned by Mr. Hickenlooper.
Mr. Hickenlooper has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of his restaurants and had never heard of Garcia-Gomez before Tuesday, said his spokeswoman, Lindy Eichenbaum Lent.
“It is no doubt chilling for the suspect’s co-workers to think they had been working alongside someone capable of cold-blooded murder,” Mr. Hickenlooper said yesterday. “The most important priority for us is to find this murder suspect and bring him to justice.”
The suspect moved to Denver from Los Angeles less than a year ago with his girlfriend, Sandra Rivas, and their 3-week-old daughter. He was originally from Durango, Mexico, news reports said.
Miss Rivas told the Rocky Mountain News that he confessed to the shootings at about 5 a.m. Sunday before fleeing their home.
“I told him he had to turn himself in,” she said.
Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Garcia-Gomez likely had fled to stay with relatives in Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Mexico. The U.S. attorney’s office issued a warrant for his arrest for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, triggering the posting of a worldwide bulletin by the FBI.
Chief Whitman warned that the suspect was armed and dangerous, and described him as “treacherous.”
Although he had lived in Denver for less than a year, Garcia-Gomez already had raised numerous red flags about his immigration status.
He produced two forms of identification before being hired at the Cherry Cricket, but last month the restaurant’s owners learned that his Social Security number was false. The second form of identification, a resident-alien card, was clearly fake, a police source told the Rocky Mountain News.
But the mayor’s business partner, Lee Driscoll said Denver’s sanctuary law prohibits employers from taking punitive action against employees who are illegal aliens.
Garcia-Gomez also had received three traffic tickets. He was cited for failing to carry a valid license and proof of insurance in two of the stops, and he presented a Mexican driver’s license in the other. He was scheduled to appear in court later this month.