Friday, Dec. 28, 2007 | Nigatu Mengistu said he’ll remember 2007 as the year 75-year-old Mercedes Ramirez fell, bleeding and crying and praying, into his apartment shouting “Policia, policia.”

Mengitsu said Ramirez had just been stabbed several times when she stumbled across the concrete walkway to his door from the apartment she shared with her 36-year-old daughter, Tomasa. When the police first arrived, he said, they placed him in handcuffs. After they took Ramirez away and set him free, he had to scrub the woman’s blood off his carpet. It took him four hours.

Since Ramirez died, Mengitsu’s sister, who used to share his small apartment, no longer likes to sleeps there. She sometimes spends weeks at their mother’s house, and if she does stay, she watches television late into the night to keep the demons away, Mengitsu said. And he said he will always remember the words Ramirez said as he pushed towels into her chest to stop the blood that was flowing like a faucet from her wounds.

“She said Jesus will be with you for what you have done,” Mengitsu said, his voice shaking. “I will never forget those words.”

Mengistu is just one tiny piece of flotsam in the sea of witnesses, dates, names and causes of death that makes up a year in San Diego homicides. His story is one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of witness accounts scribbled in notebooks and typed into laptop computers by the city’s homicide detectives in a year where at least 64 people were killed in America’s Finest City.

By Dec. 14, seven women and 57 men had left this earth from the confines of the city limits in 2007, the vast majority of them killed by bullets, but some stuck with knives and some strangled or bludgeoned to death by an overpowering attacker.

It was a pretty average year. In 2006 there were 68 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in San Diego, the year before there were 51 and the year before that there were 62. Those figures are all pretty low when put into context. The city of Los Angeles had witnessed an average of 64 homicides a month by Dec. 14.

But a closer look at some of San Diego’s homicides brings each one alive, from a cold, raw pile of data to an animated scene that’s defined by the smallest details. Homicide detectives have names for each type of killing: An “OIS” is an officer-involved shooting, of which there had been six by December 14; a “whodunit” is a crime with no clear suspect and a “domestic” is the spousal killing that police see so often.

Five homicides: One OIS, one whodunit, two domestics (including a child’s death) and a gang-related shooting. Together they make up a cross-section of San Diego’s year in homicides, with detectives solving some cases almost immediately while other killers remain elusive and, for now, invisible.


David Ramos was the first person to be killed in the city of San Diego in 2007.

Det. Kevin Rooney, a San Diego Police Department homicide spokesmen, was one of the first officers on scene at the Economy Inn, on Via de San Ysidro, where gunshots had been reported late in the morning on Jan 7.

From interview accounts and physical evidence, Rooney said, SDPD detectives have gathered a fairly clear picture of what happened in San Ysidro that afternoon.

Ramos and two companions were in a room on the second floor of the Economy Inn when someone knocked on the door, Rooney said. One man looked through the peephole of the motel room door and another tugged back the curtain of the window to see who was there.

The person outside started firing into the room, Rooney said. Two of the men in the room were struck, including Ramos, who died soon after in the motel. The other victim fled south, to Tijuana, less than a mile away, where he was treated at Tijuana Hospital. San Diego detectives later took him into custody.

Rooney said the SDPD Homicide Unit interviewed everyone they know was in the room, but that they haven’t yet managed to tie together so much as a motive for the killing. There was no evidence of drug use or a drug deal gone bad in the room, Rooney said, and despite having one of the victims in custody, there hasn’t been much movement on the case.

“I’ll be honest, we didn’t get a tremendous amount of cooperation on the case, and that makes every case difficult,” Rooney said.

All detectives have to go on for the suspect is a “generic description of a Hispanic male,” Rooney said. They have some indications that the crime was gang-related, he said, and they’ve found a few leads that he couldn’t discuss.

For now, the year’s first murder remains unsolved.


Mercedes Ramirez, Mengitsu said, was a quiet old matriarch who liked to keep the courtyard outside her shabby apartment clean and swept free of trash.

Her quiet, sullen daughter, Tomasa, would often sit staring into space and talking occasionally with the local kids who played in the courtyard, Mengitsu said. She’d always try and bum cigarettes off him, he said, even though she should have known he didn’t smoke.

Then, on the night of Feb. 17, Mercedes Ramirez fell into his apartment, and Mengitsu said he tried to save her life. He ushered the bleeding woman into his bathroom where he tried as best he could to staunch her wounds while he called the police.

When police officers arrived, they initially treated him with suspicion, Mengitsu said, but after he told them the old woman had arrived, crying for help at his door, they went over to Mercedes’ apartment.

Mengitsu said they found Tomasa Ramirez sitting quietly on the couch. He said she told the officers calmly that she had just stabbed her mother, and that she was sorry, but that she hadn’t taken her medication.

“She was totally calm and quiet,” Mengitsu said. “She wasn’t upset at all.”

Again, Rooney was called to the scene of the homicide. He said Tomasa has been charged with her mother’s murder and that she also called the police the night her mother died. There’s no indication the two women had been in any kind of dispute, Rooney said.

“They spent the day together, and there wasn’t one particular thing that prompted this. It’s not like they were in the heat of an argument or something like that,” Rooney said.

Tomasa Ramirez’s preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 23.


South 45th Street is a depressingly dark, trash-strewn corner of the Mountain View neighborhood in southeastern San Diego. It’s here that two-year-old Malachi Roberts McBride suffered a devastating brain injury that ended his short life on June 27.

McBride was a foster child. His foster mother, Linda Coleman, surrendered to police a few days after McBride died and an autopsy revealed he had suffered a blunt force trauma.

Rooney said Coleman had called paramedics and told them McBride was suffering from seizure-type symptoms. Once police officers established the child was likely to be suffering from abuse, the SDPD Child Abuse Unit conducted a number of interviews, Rooney said.

When children die in homes under suspicious circumstances, Rooney said, detectives immediately process the home to look for evidence. Sometimes adults will claim a child simply fell and hit their head on the floor, so detectives make extensive notes and take pictures of things like the type of carpeting or tile in the home, Rooney said. They also look for signs of blood or other physical evidence.

“In these cases, the autopsies are incredibly important, because they tell the story,” Rooney said.

An autopsy will help officers establish whether an adult’s account of the events leading up to a child’s death is at all plausible, Rooney said.

“Sometimes [the autopsy] will give you an example: This injury is similar to being hit by a car at 40 mph, or being dropped from the third story of a building, not falling off the couch,” he said.

In McBride’s case, Rooney said, the version of events presented by his foster mother was simply inconsistent with the injuries the child had suffered. Coleman was taken into custody and her preliminary examination is set for Jan. 14. She is yet to enter a plea.


Every year, several people are shot by police officers in San Diego.

Each time a local officer shoots his weapon in the line of duty, an investigation is carried out by the District Attorney’s Office. When a shooting victim dies, the D.A. has to establish whether there is enough evidence to bring a murder case against the police officer. At least since 2000, no local police officer has been charged with murder for an officer-involved shooting.

And it’s likely to be a few months before the District Attorney’s Office completes its report into the shooting of 32-year-old transient Dominic Long in Mission Bay Park by an SDPD officer on July 27.

Police accounts say that SDPD officers and the department’s helicopter unit responded to calls reporting a sexual abuse in Mission Bay Park on the morning of July 27. After the helicopter spotted a man matching the description of the sexual abuse suspect near Tecolote Creek, a 21-month employee of the department responded and closed in on Long.

Rooney said the officer approached Long and ordered him to stop but that the man continued to walk away from him, before turning and beckoning to the officer to approach him.

When the officer stood his ground, Rooney said, Long advanced slowly towards him and the officer saw a knife in his hand. When Long was about 10 feet away, the officer fired. Long staggered a few feet and fell. He died soon afterwards.

According to police accounts, officers found a pocketknife in Long’s hand at the scene.


In a bright yellow house on Knoxie Street in Chollas Creek, there was a party raging in the early morning of Oct. 21, a Sunday.

Several groups of young people were gathered in the backyard of the house, which sits on a quiet, well-tended residential street. The party was in full swing. It was just after midnight.

As the young adults mingled in the yard, a gun sneaked over the wooden fence surrounding the yard. The noise of the party was split by a cacophony of gunshots and several people fell.

In all, 10 people were shot at the Chollas View party. Somehow, only one, 15-year-old Chris Nuanhngan was killed. Four other teenagers and five twenty-somethings were taken to hospital, some with wounds to their legs or feet. One man was grazed by a bullet.

Rooney said detectives believe the shooter at the party was hampered by the tall fence surrounding the yard. Detectives think he or she reached up and could only just poke the gun over the fence and fire it into the crowd, Rooney said.

But that’s about it. Rooney said there’s no description of the suspect and no motive apart from a suspicion the crime was gang-related.

“We’ve formed some theories, and we’re working with them,” Rooney said.

Again, however, the detectives’ work has been hampered by a lack of cooperation from witnesses, Rooney said. And a woman who answered the door at the house where the shooting occurred refused to answer questions on the shooting.

“It wasn’t my party,” she said simply.

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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