Damien Helmbrecht was fatally shot in the back in April 2020 as he was walking to meet a friend in Federal Way in what King County prosecutors say in criminal charges filed against two men last week was retaliation for a gang-related killing.
Angelo Trejo-Martinez, 19, and Erick Alvarez-Lopez, 20, both of Des Moines, were charged Friday with premeditated first-degree murder, accused of gunning down Helmbrecht, 19, outside the Westway Community Center in the 33400 block of 21st Avenue Southwest on April 20, 2020, court records show. Arrested last week and booked into the King County Jail, Trejo-Martinez is being held in lieu of $2.5 million bail; Alvarez-Lopez’s bail was set at $2 million, according to jail and court records.
Charging papers say Trejo-Martinez and Alvarez-Lopez are members of the 30th Block street gang and were angry about the shooting death of a fellow gang member, 19-year-old Luis De La Cerda Landin, on Dec. 22, 2019, approximately two blocks from where Helmbrecht was shot. Trejo-Martinez, then 17, is accused of firing a .44-caliber revolver from the sunroof of Alvarez-Lopez’s mother’s car, which Alvarez-Lopez was driving at the time of the shooting, say the charges.
Eight days after Helmbrecht was killed, 21-year-old Javier Romo was fatally shot in the head in what Federal Way police said at the time was a drive-by shooting a block west of where De La Cerda Landin was shot. There have been no arrests in either of those homicide investigations, Federal Way police Cmdr. Kurt Schwan said Monday.
The charges note that Helmbrecht and “his neighborhood associates” in Westway were involved in a feud with members of the 30th Block street gang.
Around 10:40 p.m. on April 20, 2020, Federal Way police officers heard gunshots and located a man later identified as Helmbrecht, who was unresponsive near the doors to the community center, charging papers say. He died at the scene. No shell casings were found, but police found a .44-caliber bullet in the wall behind the spot where Helmbrecht was shot, say the charges.
The friend Helmbrecht was meeting later told police he and Helmbrecht were exchanging text messages in the moments before the shooting. The friend looked out his bedroom window and saw a silver sedan pull alongside Helmbrecht; a male occupant of the vehicle yelled something, then fired several rounds at Helmbrecht, the charges say.
Another witness called 911 and reported seeing a man standing in a car’s open sunroof while firing a handgun at another man, who was running westbound on Southwest 334th Street, in front of the community center, according to the charges.
A third witness, who was a back seat passenger in Alvarez-Lopez’s car, was identified after police obtained a “geo-fence” search warrant and tied the witness’ phone to the route of the suspect vehicle, the charges say.
During the earlier investigation into De La Cerda Landin’s homicide, a Federal Way police detective obtained a search warrant for social-media accounts belonging to various 30th Block gang members, including Alvarez-Lopez’s accounts, say charging papers. Investigators determined Alvarez-Lopez had sent the third witness links to a news story about Helmbrecht’s homicide and to archived radio transmissions made by police officers who responded to the shooting scene, the charges say. Alvarez-Lopez’s phone records tracked with the witness’s phone records and placed him in Westway when Helmbrecht was shot.
Police say Trejo-Martinez claimed Helmbrecht fired a semi-automatic handgun at Alvarez-Lopez’s car, but no shell casings or a firearm were found at the scene where Helmbrecht was ambushed and shot, the charges say.
Attorneys representing Trejo-Martinez and Alvarez-Lopez did not immediately respond to voice or email messages on Monday. Trejo-Martinez and Alvarez-Lopez are scheduled for arraignment July 27.