In January 2019, as political tensions rose over funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, reports emerged that an undocumented immigrant had been responsible for four killings in Nevada.
On 21 January, President Trump himself tweeted that “Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country,” and used the case in support of his argument for the enhanced security infrastructure along the southern border, adding “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
President Trump and some of his supporters have consistently talked up the supposed risk to public safety from immigration across the southern U.S. border. However, studies have repeatedly shown that undocumented immigrants actually commit crimes, including violent crimes, at a lower rate than native-born U.S. citizens, as we have outlined in greater detail previously.
The day after Trump’s tweet, the conservative “Constitution Club” Facebook page posted a widely-shared meme featuring a photograph of an elderly Nevada couple alleged to have been killed by the “illegal immigrant” in question:
“REST IN PEACE: Gerold [sic] (81) and Sharon David (80), shot and killed by an illegal immigrant during a home invasion/robbery in Reno on 1/10/19.”
On 19 January, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office arrested Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, a citizen of El Salvador, in connection with a series of burglaries and homicides in Washoe and Douglas Counties in January 2019. Initial police statements described the suspect as being 19 years old, but Carson City Sheriff’s Office records list his age as 20.
Martinez-Guzman is suspected of being responsible for the shooting deaths of 56-year-old Connie Koontz on 10 January, 74-year-old Sophia Renken on 13 January, and Gerald David (81) and his wife Sharon David (80) on 16 January.
A spokesperson for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) confirmed to Snopes that Martinez-Guzman is an undocumented immigrant, writing in an email to us that: “Mr. Martinez-Guzman is a citizen of El Salvador who entered the United States unlawfully on an unknown date and location. He has no prior criminal or immigration history. ICE has lodged a detainer.”
ICE files a detainer request with a local law enforcement agency when they have reason to believe that an individual is eligible to be deported from the United States, and ICE formally asks that agency to notify ICE in advance of the individual’s release from custody (for example, after serving a prison sentence) so that ICE can then immediately take the person into custody and begin the deportation process.
Martinez-Guzman was initially charged in Carson City with burglary and possession of stolen property in relation to his alleged actions at the David household in South Reno, as well as immigration offences. As of 24 January, he had not been charged with murder, but local law enforcement officials have said they are “confident [they] have evidence that will link him to all four homicides.”
On 24 January, the Carson City District Attorney added several additional charges. According to KOLO-TV, those new charges included:
- 12 new counts of possession of a stolen firearm, including rifles, shotguns and one handgun belonging to Gerald and Sharon David.
- Two counts possession of stolen property – an Apple watch belonging to Connie Koontz, plus golf club and tools belonging to another Carson City burglary victim.
- Twelve counts of prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
- Two misdemeanor counts of possession of stolen property, rings belonging to Connie Koontz.
- Three misdemeanor counts of obtaining money under false pretenses for the sale of two rings belonging to Connie Koontz, one belonging to Gerald David.
As of 24 January, Martinez-Guzman had not been charged with killing Gerald and Sharon David, Connie Koontz or Sophia Renken, nor had he offered his plea in response to the charges brought against him. Notwithstanding the obvious confidence of law enforcement officials that Martinez-Guzman was responsible for the four killings in January 2019, we cannot yet say whether or not he was guilty of them.
We can say for certain that he had entered the United States illegally and therefore was indeed an unauthorized immigrant according to ICE, and that the Davids were indeed shot dead according to a medical examiner. For these reasons, we issue an unproven rating in response to the claim that Gerald and Sharon David were “shot and killed by an illegal immigrant.”
MacGuill, Dan. “Does Lack of Affordable Healthcare Kill More People in America Than Terrorism and Illegal Immigration?”
Snopes.com. 8 January 2019.
Garcia, Arturo and Bethania Palma. “Have Undocumented Immigrants Killed 63,000 American Citizens Since 9/11?”
Snopes.com. 22 June 2018.
Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. “Press Release — Suspect in Custody as Investigations of Homicides in Washoe and Douglas Counties Continue.”
20 January 2019.
Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. “Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Updates La Guardia Lane Homicide Investigation.”
18 January 2019.
Gross, Sam et al. “Bail, New Court Date Set for Wilbur Martinez-Guzman, Suspect in Reno, Gardnerville Murders.”
The Reno Gazette-Journal. 24 January 2019.
KOLO. “Carson Complaint Adds Charges to Murder Suspect’s Case.”
24 January 2019.