‘Anything is better than nothing’: Yakima detectives need your help to solve cold cases

Investigators say you telling them about a rumor, a picture or a vague recollection could be the key that cracks a case wide open

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Loved ones remember 27-year-old Armando Sanzon-Vasquez as someone with a passion for music, who enjoyed spending time with his family and friends and was taken from them far too soon.

But now, seven years after Sanzon-Vasquez was shot dead in a gang-related, drive-by shooting in Wapato, they’re still waiting for answers and investigators aren’t much closer to finding his killer.

“It’s basically one of those where nobody knows,” Yakima County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Casey Schilperoort said. “There were people that came in and said they think it might be this particular person, but the leads for that one ran out.”

After receiving a request from a family member, the sheriff’s office took to social media this week to ask for people in the community to come forward with any information that might help them in their investigation.

“This particular person said that the investigators haven’t been able to catch their brother’s killer,” Schilperoort said. “I thought it would be a good idea to send out a post regarding this to see if anybody had information.”

On March 24, 2015, Sanzon-Vasquez was reportedly with a friend, sitting in a car parked in front of a home on Ebony Lane, when someone in a passing car opened fire, killing Sanzon-Vasquez and injuring his friend.

“We investigated the case as far as we could at that time and didn’t come up with any particular suspects that we could go to court with,” Schilperoort said. “The investigators and deputies that were on that case in 2015 have now since retired.”

Schilperoort said that leaves new detectives looking at those cases with fresh eyes. He said the sheriff’s office has about 20 to 30 cold cases dating back to the 1960s — which doesn’t include cases filed at city police departments around the county.

Anyone with information about Sanzon-Vasquez’s case should email jason.pepper@co.yakima.wa.us and reference case number 15C04349 or make an anonymous tip to Yakima County Crime Stoppers.

Detectives struggle with cases where witnesses won’t cooperate

“One of the biggest hurdles that we deal with on a regular basis is the lack of cooperation from witnesses or additional victims in a crime,” said Det. Drew Shaw, who has years of experience investigating cold cases at the Yakima Police Department.

Shaw said that lack of cooperation is especially prevalent in gang-related cases, where witnesses may be gang members themselves and are worried about retaliation from the gang, repercussions for their own criminal activity or potential damage to their reputation.

“They’re more concerned about what people in their peer group would think about them cooperating with the police, even if it was somebody that they truly cared about,” Shaw said.

Detectives never know what piece of information could be critical to finding a new lead on a cold case. It could be something as small as a rumor someone heard from a friend, an old text message or a picture of the victim at a party weeks before they were killed.

“Even if they think that it’s not important or doesn’t seem important, it may be important to us,” Shaw said.

Yakima County detectives want all the information, even if it ends up going nowhere

Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and Yakima Police Department detectives want to hear from you in connection with the dozens of unsolved or cold cases they want to clear, especially if:

  • You were afraid to say something at the time, but are now willing to talk to police. If you were previously unwilling to speak with police due to fear of retaliation by people involved, what the people around you might think about you cooperating with police or because you were worried about getting in trouble for something you were doing at the time, the police still want to hear what you have to say, even if you’re only comfortable sending in an anonymous tip with limited information.
  • You knew the victim(s) or other people involved. If you knew the victims or anyone involved in the case and remember something vague about that time period that may or may not be relevant to the investigation, police still want to hear from you.
  • You have heard rumors about the case. If you’ve heard a rumor about the case or the people involved, police could use that information to take a new direction in their investigation.
  • You spent some time with or talked to the victim(s) before they were killed. If you have any photos, text messages, emails or other records involving the victim in the time before their death — such as photos of them hanging out with other people or texts talking about a trip they went on — that information could end up being vital to solving the case.
  • You lived in the area where the killing occurred. If you weren’t involved in the case and didn’t know any of the people involved, but did live in the area where the incident occurred and remember something, police want to know.
  • You saw something about the case on social media. If you saw a social media post about the case or that references something about the people involved, police said that information might help them in the investigation.
  • You remembered something that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time of the incident, but wonder if police know about it. Even if detectives have heard information from someone else, you might have an extra detail that someone else didn’t think to share and that could really help them in their investigation.

Shaw said the police department understands that it may be difficult for people to come forward, which is why they developed an online map detailing murders back to 2010 that allows people to submit anonymous tips to YPD.

Anonymous tips can also be submitted to Yakima County Crime Stoppers on their website here, by calling 1-800-222-8477 or by using the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.

Shaw said they can sort through all the tips to determine whether the information is relevant. He said if it’s not, that’s fine, but even the smallest piece of information can blow a case right out of the water.

“Anything’s better than nothing; even if it’s something that is so vague that it just really doesn’t give us much, it’s better than nothing,” Shaw said.

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