Eleven years ago, it was cold and dark in Ahwatukee Foothills just before 7 a.m.
For most residents at the Sonoran Apartment complex, Jan. 15, 1999 was just another Friday morning.
Jeff Powell had already left for his job at the nearby Coca Cola bottling plant. His roommate, Jacob Jones, was sitting in his pickup truck, warming it up as his other roommate, Rick Tapia, walked down the stairs and to the waiting pickup for a quick lift to his job at Standard Register, a printing company across the freeway
At 6:45 a.m. it was a quiet, early morning, at the apartment complex at 13625 S. 48th St.
By 7 a.m. it was a homicide scene.
As Tapia, 27, walked through the dark to his roommate’s yellow pickup, police say someone was waiting near the swimming pool and began shooting, closing in on the 27-year-old, putting seven slugs into Tapia, the last at almost point-blank range. Bullets hit a nearby apartment and punctured the radiator of a parked car, but only Tapia was hit, multiple times, and was pronounced dead at the scene by firefighters.
The shooter took off on foot, heading south towards Ray Road, disappearing in the early morning darkness, said witnesses who had a hard time figuring out what they were seeing
When homicide detective Kathi Galbari arrived she had a body and no motive.
And in Illinois Tapia’s mother, Penny, and father, Max, were left to wonder why one of their five children would be gunned down.
Years later, police are still stumped as to why Tapia was killed and who did it.
Galbari, who retired several years ago and moved to Colorado, knew just one thing about the shooter, “They knew who they wanted – they knew him by sight.”
Initially police considered the shooting was the result of a love triangle, possibly the result of Tapia showing affection to the wrong woman and a jealous boyfriend reacting.
One promising lead was a former roommate, Alex Hunt, who said that Tapia had assaulted his girlfriend. But when Galbari and detectives confronted Hunt the day Tapia was shot, Hunt denied any involvement and offered his gun for testing. Quickly Hunt was eliminated as a suspect.
In the months that followed police accumulated hundreds of pages of information, but few clues.
Tapia graduated from Moline High School in Illinois, then bounced around at several different colleges before coming west to Phoenix. People in the apartment complex remembered parties, sometimes loud, coming from the apartment the three shared, but little else.
Quickly the trail grew cold.
“Nothing really developed in this case,” said Officer Luis Samudio, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.
As so the case sits, not forgotten, but with few clues, not actively being pursued.
“Sometime we get lucky and people come in and volunteer information,” Samudio said.
And sometime they don’t.
Anyone with information is asked to call the police department’s Violent Crime Bureau at (602) 262-6141.