November 8, 1995 in Nation/World

Gunmen Kill Young Couple, But Third Victim Escapes Police Believe Murders Tied To Drugs And Gangs

Bonnie Harris Jess Walter Contributed Staff writer

Gunmen burst into a northeast Spokane apartment early Tuesday and opened fire, killing a young couple and critically wounding a man who jumped from a second-story window to escape.

Police believe the shooting is drug- and gang-related but wouldn’t elaborate on the motive.

They also refused to make public the names of the victims, who were shot multiple times. Relatives of the two men, however, confirmed their identities as Ronnie Armstead, 23, and his uncle, Richard Armstead, 42.

The younger man and his girlfriend were killed. Her full name wasn’t immediately available.

Richard Armstead was shot at least three times before leaping from the window at 2914 N. Hogan and collapsing on a front porch three blocks away, police said.

He underwent surgery and is listed in critical condition.

Hospital officials said “at least 30 people” claiming to be relatives of Richard Armstead’s have shown up wanting to see him.

But no visitors have been allowed, and arrangements were being made to move him late Tuesday because authorities fear more gang retaliation.

Ronnie Armstead had been living in the apartment with a friend, Jason Brown, for the past few months. Both men have been arrested on assault, drug and theft charges and are gang members, police said.

The nature of their friendship has changed radically depending on the outcome of drug sales and gang feuds, according to police reports.

Before Tuesday’s shootings, Ronnie Armstead drove to the airport and dropped off Brown, who caught a flight to Las Vegas. Relatives last talked to Armstead about 1 a.m.

Detectives said they have few leads because the only witness is hooked up to monitors and barely can talk.

“There was definitely some type of struggle in there and definitely outsiders that came in and did the shooting,” Capt. Roger Bragdon said. “We don’t have any real good witnesses to it, though. We don’t have much.”

Police interviewed Richard Armstead just before he went into surgery but got little information. He indicated only that “four or five” people came into the apartment and at least one started shooting, Bragdon said.

It is unclear how many shots were fired or how many weapons were used.

Several neighbors heard shouting in the apartment and at first thought a man and a woman were fighting. Someone called police just before 3 a.m.

“I heard guns going off and lots of people running up and down the stairs,” said neighbor Judy Murinko. “People were screaming, and then all of the sudden, it was quiet.”

Another tenant, Michele LeClaire, wasn’t home during the shootings but said she has heard people going in and out of the apartment all the time, especially late at night.

“I’ve never talked to them,” she said. “I don’t know what they do in there.”

Police kept tenants inside their apartments for more than five hours while Ronnie Armstead’s body lay sprawled in the middle of the second-story stairwell. They searched his apartment and finally moved his body shortly after 8 a.m.

His girlfriend, alive when paramedics arrived, died at the hospital.

Autopsy results on both victims may be available today.

Ronnie Armstead’s relationship with his roommate, Brown, was unusual, police said.

Last year, he reported being kidnapped and beaten by two men sent by Brown, who was jailed at the time.

Ronnie Armstead told police he had dented Brown’s Cadillac and that two men had told him to come up with money to fix it by morning or “the job would be finished.”

Armstead “said that he usually does not cooperate with police,” court records show. “However, at this time, he feels he has no choice. He is concerned that they will do something to him.”

A few days later, though, Armstead changed his mind and said Brown had had nothing to do with the kidnapping. He told police he didn’t want anything to do with the case, and charges were dismissed.

“He and Jason, they fought all the time off and on, but they always got back together,” said Arthur Armstead, another uncle of Ronnie’s. “They’re just a bunch of kids acting up. This shooting, I know, it didn’t have nothing to do with Jason Brown.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Map of fatal shooting area

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bonnie Harris Staff writer Staff writer Jess Walter contributed to this report.

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