The quiet Nevada communities spooked by the murders of four people in their homes within a week can breathe once again, according to authorities who are confident they have apprehended the murderer.
Murder charges are now pending against Wilbur Martinez-Guzman, 19, who was arrested on Jan. 19 in Carson City on charges related to burglary and possession of stolen property and charges related to his immigration status.
Authorities received a tip about Martinez-Guzman, who was living in Carson City, as they investigated a string of killings in Washoe and Douglas counties that had been already connected through ballistics.
The spate of killings started on Jan. 10, when Connie Koontz, 56, was found dead inside her home in Gardnerville Ranchos, Douglas County. Three days later, Sophia Renken, 74, was found dead in her home about a mile away.
On the afternoon of Jan 16, Jerry David, 81, and his wife Sherri, 80, were found in nearby Washoe County in their South Reno home. Both had died from gunshot wounds.
The murders sparked a sharp uptick in home security inquiries as residents scrambled to secure their homes in the quiet communities.
“Northern Nevada is a special place. Douglas County is a special place,” said Sheriff Dan Coverley of Douglas County. “These acts are not common—and we feel thankful for that.”
But despite releasing few details on Martinez-Guzman, authorities are confident they have got their man.
“I want you to know that we feel strongly that we have the man responsible for this,” said Coverley. ” You can go about your daily activities. We worked hard to bring some peace to you, and I am comfortable that we have done that.”
Sheriff Darin Balaam, @DouglasSheriff Sheriff Dan Coverley, and @Carson_Sheriff Sheriff Ken Furlong just announced the arrest of a suspect in the ongoing Douglas County and Washoe County homicide investigations. Details on our Facebook page. pic.twitter.com/BYllUgpada
— Washoe Sheriff (@WashoeSheriff) January 20, 2019
Martinez-Guzman is believed by immigration authorities to be in the country illegally.
President Trump picked up on the story, writing in a Tweet, “Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country. 26 people killed on the Border in a drug and gang-related fight. Two large Caravans from Honduras broke into Mexico and are headed our way. We need a powerful Wall!”
Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country. 26 people killed on the Border in a drug and gang related fight. Two large Caravans from Honduras broke into Mexico and are headed our way. We need a powerful Wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019
The murders came as a shock to the peaceful, lawful neighborhood.
A family that lives a couple of doors down from the couple shot in South Reno, moved to a hotel and a relative’s house for a few nights after the murders.
“We didn’t even have a key for our front door,” Abbi Whitaker told the Renal Gazette Journal, “We would leave our front door open, our garage open.”
When they returned they secured the front door and armed themselves.
“A shotgun sat by our bed, loaded,” she said. “We slept with all of the lights on.”
News of a suspect’s arrest brought them relief, she said.
“My husband looked at me and he said, ‘I can breathe again,’” Whitaker said.
Another neighbor, Caroline Moassessi, told the Journal she also was nervous after the killings, but the constant law enforcement presence brought reassurance.
“We slept really well with all the law enforcement on the street,” she said. “But you could feel the tension in the air (in the neighborhood).”
Moassessi said she felt relieved by the arrest of Martinez-Guzman, but “emotionally tired” and sad over the loss of the elderly couple. “I don’t know whether to celebrate. It’s hard to know how to feel,” she said.