A memorial for 19-year-old Damien Helmbrecht was placed outside of the Westway Community Center on April 23,2020. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

A memorial for 19-year-old Damien Helmbrecht was placed outside of the Westway Community Center on April 23,2020. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Two Des Moines men charged with Federal Way ‘retaliatory’ killing

19-year-old was shot and killed while walking to a meet a friend in April 2020

Two men have been charged in what prosecutors say was the “retaliatory murder” of a 19-year-old man killed last year in a drive-by shooting in Federal Way.

Erick R. Alvarez-Lopez, 20, and Angelo D. Trejo-Martinez, 19, have each been charged with one count of first-degree murder, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The last known addresses for both of the men are in Des Moines.

“Their actions demonstrate without question that they are each a threat to community safety and to the safety of Westway residents in particular if released,” wrote Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Terence R. Carlstrom in the charging documents.

The charges have been filed in connection to the April 20, 2020, death of Damien Helmbrecht. Around 10:40 p.m. on that date in the Westway neighborhood of Federal Way, Helmbrecht was shot in a drive-by and died at the scene.

Helmbrecht was walking past the neighborhood community center to meet a friend when the two men abruptly stopped and opened fire on him with a large caliber revolver, documents state.

At the time of the shooting, it was illegal for either of the men to possess a firearm — Alvarez-Lopez due to a felony robbery conviction from 2017, and Trejo-Martinez due to being 17 years old at the time.

Alvarez-Lopez’s bail has been set at $2 million and Trejo-Martinez’s bail has been set at $2.5 million because, by his own admission, he admitted to firing the shot that killed Helmbrecht.

Their arraignments are at 9 a.m. July 27 in the GA courtroom of the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

According to the charging documents:

Investigators found Helmbrecht and others in the neighborhood were involved in an ongoing dispute with the “30th Block” Sureno gang.

The dispute stemmed from a Feb. 2019 shooting in which Helmbrecht’s brother allegedly shot and injured 19-year-old Luis De La Cerda-Landin. In Dec. 2019, De La Cerda-Landin was shot and killed while driving through the Westway neighborhood in Federal Way, the Mirror previously reported.

Alvarez-Lopez’s Snapchat account revealed that he had communicated with a witness, who had been in the car at the time of the shooting of Helmbrecht, 30 times between April 1, 2020, and May 4, 2020.

On the day after the shooting, Alvarez-Lopez sent the witness a news article about the previous night’s murder of Helmbrecht and a link to a site with audio files of radio transmissions made by police when responding to the shooting.

Alvarez-Lopez drove through the Westway neighborhood with the witness in the backseat and Trejo-Martinez in the front passenger seat on April 20, 2020.

Someone mentioned they should “catch someone slipping,” the witness recalled. At a set of mailboxes in Westway, Trejo-Martinez allegedly got out of the car armed with a silver revolver and “checked” a man, demanding to know what gang he was associated with, documents state. When he denied having involvement, the group moved on.

Two other witnesses reported to police that on the night of Helmbrecht’s death, they had been “checked” by the person in the front seat of silver car, later identified as Trejo-Martinez.

After allegedly stopping to smoke Percocet tablets, the group drove through the Westway neighborhood and spotted Helmbrecht walking up the street in their direction.

The witness said Alvarez-Lopez stopped the car near Helmbrecht as Trejo-Martinez stood up through the sunroof with the gun.

Trejo-Martinez asked Helmbrecht where he was from, and when Helmbrecht started to answer while reaching for his pocket, Trejo-Martinez allegedly began to fire until the revolver was empty, documents state.

The three men in the car fled the area and went to the home of Alvarez-Lopez’s family member.

Alvarez-Lopez was arrested on July 6 and initially denied being in the car at the time of the shooting. Later, he said he was in the Westway neighborhood to possibly beat people up.

“However, Alvarez-Lopez insisted that it was never his intention to kill anyone and claimed that he specifically told his passengers that they were not to shoot anyone while they were in his mother’s car,” the documents state.

Trejo-Martinez was arrested on July 7 and initially denied any involvement or knowledge of Helmbrecht’s murder.

In a second interview, he admitted to being in the Westway neighborhood with Alvarez-Lopez and the other witness. He said the three were drinking heavily, upset about De La Cerda-Landin’s murder, and were looking to confront anyone they found walking in the neighborhood.

When they came in contact with Helmbrecht, Trejo-Martinez said that he saw Helmbrecht remove a pistol from his backpack and that Helmbrecht fired a shot toward their vehicle. He then “blindly fired” the gun at Helmbrecht through the open sunroof, according to charging documents.

King County Medical Examiner’s Office said Helmbrecht died from a gunshot wound to the torso and ruled his death a homicide.

When searching the scene, police found neither a semi-automatic handgun nor any fired cartridge casings consistent with the gun Trejo-Martinez alleged Helmbrecht had fired.

In the days after Helmbrecht’s death, candles, bouquets of flowers, balloons, empty liquor bottles and handwritten notes were placed at the corner of the community center’s driveway.

Tucked in a bundle of pink roses, a handwritten note read: “My son, Damien. I miss you my boy. Love always and forever, Mom.”

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