Suspect in 5 killings slipped through deportation net

Story highlights

  • Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino arrested in Missouri after manhunt, police say
  • He was charged with four counts of murder in Kansas, also charged in Missouri case
  • Immigration officials wanted custody of suspect last year but made paperwork error

(CNN)An interstate manhunt ended early Wednesday near New Florence, Missouri, when police arrested a suspect wanted in five killings.

Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, 36, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder after a shooting early Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. Serrano-Vitorino also is charged with murder in the death of a fifth man in a separate shooting across the state border in Missouri.
    Police identified the four Kansas victims as 36-year-old Jeremy Waters of Miami County and three Kansas City residents: 41-year-old Michael Capps, 27-year-old Clint Harter and 29-year-old Austin Harter. According to police, the victims lived next door to Serrano-Vitorino and may have been friends.
    The repercussions of the killing spree will likely extend beyond the local community because the suspect is an undocumented immigrant who had been deported once -- and who faced possible deportation a second time were it not for a bureaucratic mistake by the federal immigration agency.
    U.S. immigration officials confirmed they were aware of Serrano-Vitorino's presence in the country after he had already been deported once but said a paperwork error prevented his detention.

    Massive manhunt

    After the two shootings that left five dead, police sought Serrano-Vitorino for hours, releasing his photo to the public and deploying helicopters and about 100 officers in the search. Authorities described him as "armed and dangerous" and possibly carrying an AK-47.
    Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Missouri State Highway Patrol received a call from a man who said the suspect pulled a gun on him.
    When officers arrived on the scene, they found Serrano-Vitorino lying facedown in a ditch, said Sgt. Scott White of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The suspect surrendered without incident.
    "He was exhausted," Sgt. James Hedrick from the highway patrol told The Kansas City Star.
    A rifle was taken from him, White said.
    Police had sought Serrano-Vitorino after the first shooting in Kansas in which three men died at the scene and a fourth at a hospital.
    "Any time you have an individual that's possibly responsible for five homicides, that's a very serious incident," said White. "We're glad that we're able to take him into custody."
    It's unclear what prompted the shootings. Police aren't aware of any disputes between the neighbors and are still investigating possible motives.
    Later Tuesday morning, Missouri police responded to a call about a shooting and found the body of Randy J. Nordman, 49, at his rural Montgomery County home. The officers found Serrano-Vitorino's truck at the residence, said Lt. Paul Reinsch of the highway patrol.
    There was no indication vehicles or anything else were stolen from the home or nearby properties, he said.

    Mishandled immigration form

    According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Serrano-Vitorino was deported to Mexico in 2004. At some point, he re-entered the United States illegally, though ICE said it was unclear when.
    But on September 15, Serrano-Vitorino was fingerprinted at the Overland Park Municipal Court in Kansas, and ICE was alerted.
    Because Serrano-Vitorino had illegally re-entered the country after a previous deportation, he was subject to deportation once again. ICE filed an immigration detainer, a request to take over custody of Serrano-Vitorino before the local authorities released him.
    But ICE mistakenly issued the detainer for him to the wrong sheriff's office, and as a result of the error, Serrano-Vitorino was not taken into ICE custody then.
    Wyandotte County, Kansas, District Attorney Jerome A. Gorman said Wednesday that ICE's mistake was regrettable.
    "It's certainly unfortunate that we now have four members of our community dead because everything didn't happen the way it's supposed to."
    Immigration detainers are requests -- not orders -- and expire after 48 hours if ICE hasn't taken custody of the individual by then. After 48 hours, if the local agency has no grounds to continue holding a person, he or she must be released.