A 23-year-old woman was shot and killed early Tuesday in White Center, and authorities are searching for suspects.

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King County sheriff’s detectives say they are confident they’ll catch two suspects involved in the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman early Tuesday in White Center.

“We’re going to find you,” Deputy Travis DeFries said. “The best thing you can do for yourself is come on in and talk to us.”

DeFries, a department spokesman, said based on witness interviews, detectives believe the two men wanted in the shooting live in the neighborhood.

Relatives identified the victim as Sweetheart Failautusi and said she too grew up in the White Center area.

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According to DeFries, a passer-by called 911 at 12:20 a.m. to report a fight at 15th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Roxbury Street.

When a sheriff’s sergeant and two deputies arrived, they found a group of women who told them they’d been involved in an altercation with three men, who had left, DeFries said. The women downplayed the fight and told the deputies they planned to get on a bus soon.

The deputies saw several buses pass, but no one involved in the fight boarded them.

“They didn’t have much other than their instincts that this could erupt into something more,” he said.

The deputies heard gunshots about a block away at 12:58 a.m. They raced to the scene and found the victim in the middle of 15th Avenue Southwest.

“They got out and were walking around on foot, trying to be visible, seeing if they can spot anything,” DeFries said of the deputies. “They were trying to prevent further violence and their instincts were right. Unfortunately, they were a block away.”

DeFries said no weapons were found and the victim’s friends were interviewed by detectives. A canine unit was brought in, but a search was unsuccessful.

Failautusi was Samoan or Pacific Islander and the three men are black, according to DeFries. He couldn’t say whether race played a role in the fight and fatal shooting, “but it’s one of the angles” detectives are looking at.

Failautusi’s cousins, Lily and Diana Olive, were among those who gathered near a light post in front of a Bartell Drugs on 15th Avenue Southwest.

There, friends had left an empty bottle of cognac, an open can of Four Loko energy drink, flowers and other items in a growing memorial to Failautusi.

“She always looked out for everybody,” said Lily Olive, who grew up with Failautusi in the White Center area. “Her name said it all — she was a sweetheart and she put everybody before herself.”

“She was a family person” who always considered her close friends as family, too, said Diana Olive. “It’s a shocker to all of us.”

Detectives don’t know how many times Failautusi was shot and haven’t ruled out gang activity.

The deputies who responded to the initial fight knew Failautusi and her companions by name, DeFries said.

“We’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” said DeFries. “We’re confident we’ll find out who was involved.”

He said detectives are reviewing video-surveillance footage from nearby businesses and working with Metro officials to determine if there is video of any of the men in a bus shelter or boarding a coach.

“We’re looking to see if we struck gold on that,” DeFries said. “It’s obvious there was a feud going on between these two groups, but we don’t know if it was 45 minutes old or weeks old or what.”

The intersection where Failautusi was killed has been the scene of at least three other shootings in recent years, including a fatal shooting in May 2010. But DeFries said there’s no connection between the slaying of Failautusi and the 2010 killing.

“Two homicides in two years are just flukes,” he said.

Southwest Roxbury Street is a dividing line, with Seattle city limits ending on the north side of the street and unincorporated King County beginning on the south side.

There are two bus shelters on either side of 15th Avenue Southwest at Roxbury, and another just east of the intersection, making it something of a neighborhood hub, even at night.

In June, a 25-year-old man walked out of a pub on the corner of Southwest Roxbury Street and 15th Avenue Southwest to smoke and was shot after an altercation.

Witnesses later told police two men had exchanged gunfire, but it was unclear if the injured man was a participant or a bystander.

In May 2010, Tyree Bellinger II — a known gang member — was found fatally shot in the middle of the street at the same intersection. No one has been charged in connection with his slaying, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

In June 2003, Darreion Roman Roche, a 32-year-old carpenter, was shot six times in an alley near the intersection after what deputies said was a drug deal gone bad.

His accused killer and admitted gang member, Vernon M. Walker, fled to Canada but was extradited to King County in June and is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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