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Police: W.Va. gunman had mental disability

November 25, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A Charles Town man who shot and killed his sister Sunday and then committed suicide as police officers surrounded him was paranoid schizophrenic and manic depressive, according to police.

Family members told police that David Mendez, 23, of 213 Packett Drive, had not taken his medication for several days, according to Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Deputy R.L. Fletcher.

Mendez shot his sister, Alicia Mendez, 20, once in the chest sometime Sunday, police said. Her body was found outside the home's back door on a patio, Fletcher said.

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Alicia Mendez's body was sent to Charleston, W.Va., for an autopsy. Fletcher was not sure whether an autopsy would be performed on David Mendez's body.

The shooting happened in Tuscawilla Hills, a neighborhood outside Charles Town off W.Va. 51. Most of the homes in the quiet, upscale community, which is adjacent to a golf course, are surrounded by trees.

A woman who lives a few doors down from the Mendez home said the Mendez family moved to Tuscawilla Hills less than a year ago.

When the family moved in, the neighbor, who declined to give her name, said she went over to introduce herself. David Mendez, who told her he was a student at Shepherd College, seemed like an average college kid, she said.

Although the neighbor said she doubted anyone in Tuscawilla Hills knew the family well, she said the general consensus of people she has talked to is that they wish they could help.

"I really feel sorry for the mother and wish I could do something for her," she said.

A woman who answered the door at the Mendez home Monday evening said she is a friend of the family from out-of-state. After saying the family was still at the hospital, the woman declined to comment further.

Police were called at around 4:30 p.m. Sunday for a call that gunshots had been fired. As they drove to the area, dispatchers told police that a man was walking up and down Packett Street with a rifle, waving it at passers-by and yelling, Fletcher said.

When sheriff's department deputies and officers from the Charles Town and Ranson police departments arrived, they began to surround the man. At that time, they were unaware a woman had been killed, Fletcher said.

As police closed in on David Mendez, he yelled unintelligible remarks and put the gun in and out of his mouth, police said. Although he pointed and waved the .234-caliber bolt-action rifle toward police, officers did not fire, Fletcher said.

Mendez eventually ejected a spent cartridge, loaded a new round into the chamber, raised the gun and shot himself once in the forehead, Fletcher said.

After Mendez killed himself, police found Alicia Mendez's body, Fletcher said.

Helen Louise Burch, 85, was driving along Packett Drive while Mendez was waving the rifle around, Fletcher said.

Mendez pointed the gun at Burch while she was in her car and then walked away, Burch told police. When Burch got out of her car, Mendez used the butt end of the rifle to hit her in the head, Fletcher said.

Burch saw a door to a nearby house was open and she ran inside, hid in a closet for a couple of minutes, then ran back out and yelled for help. Neighbors called police, Fletcher said.

Although Burch did not know it, the home she ran into was the Mendez home. She did not see Alicia Mendez's body, Fletcher said.

Inside the split-level home police found a broken vase. Fletcher said he believes Mendez was standing at the bottom of the home's stairs and that Alicia Mendez was standing at the top when she was shot. Alicia Mendez then apparently fell down the stairs, knocking over the vase, Fletcher said.

David Mendez did not leave a note and Fletcher said he could not speculate on what might have caused the shooting, other than Mendez's mental condition.

As police were on the scene Sunday evening, the victims' mother, also named Alicia Mendez, drove into the neighborhood. When Fletcher asked her where she was going, he realized she was heading to the home involved. He escorted her inside in a way that made it impossible for her to see either body and told her what had happened, Fletcher said.

No prior problems had been reported at the home, Fletcher said.

David Mendez purchased the rifle a few days before the shooting, Fletcher said. Although he said police were looking into how Mendez was able to buy a gun, privacy regulations probably meant the seller had no way of knowing Mendez's medical history. Mendez did not have a criminal record, Fletcher said.

Mendez, his sister, his mother and a brother, Philip Mendez, 26, lived at the home. Although the children's father lived elsewhere, he was notified of the shooting and went to the hospital, Fletcher said.

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