Two young boys who were targeted in a brutal and apparently random attack while playing at a west Phoenix park died Friday, and police said their alleged assailant now faces murder charges.
Cousins Edwin Pellecier and Jesse Ramirez suffered severe head injuries when they were repeatedly bludgeoned on Tuesday afternoon, Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said. Seven-year-old Jesse died early Friday and 10-year-old Edwin was pronounced dead hours later.
Police arrested 36-year-old Joe Sauceda Gallegos within hours of the attack and he made an initial court appearance on two counts of child abuse and dangerous crimes against children on Wednesday.
Detectives added a first-degree murder charge after Jesse’s death and a second was being lodged Friday afternoon, Thompson said.
“It was just a brutal, vicious attack that didn’t need to happen,” Thompson said. “This is the type of deal that makes hard-boiled cops cry inside.”
The boys were found by a neighbor lying in a small community park early Tuesday afternoon. Doctors told police they believe the boys were bludgeoned repeatedly with a baseball bat or similar object. Police say they found a bat in Gallegos’ home along with clothing that appeared to be bloodstained.
Court records do not list an attorney for Gallegos. He is being held on a $1 million cash bond and did not respond to a request to be interviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Police searching for witnesses after the boys were discovered found that a man who lived near the park had a video surveillance camera mounted in front of his house. Police said it captured images of the boys walking toward the park, followed a minute later by a man carrying an object that looked like a bat. The neighbor said the man looked like his neighbor, Gallegos.
Investigators who went to Gallegos’ house noted that he appeared nervous and that he looked like the man in the surveillance video, according to a police probable cause statement filed in court. Gallegos told police he hadn’t seen anything unusual.
Gallegos was arrested for not showing up for a court date on an unrelated misdemeanor case. Police said Gallegos had an odor of chlorine on his hands and stains that appeared to be blood on his shoes.
A later search turned up the bat, several red-stained items of clothing and an open bottle of bleach in the bathroom.
Gallegos’ uncle told police that he believed Gallegos had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
The uncle also said Gallegos had told authorities about six months ago that he killed his sons in his attic, but police never found any such victims at the house. Gallegos’ sons live with their mother in Colorado and are the same ages of the boys who were attacked.
Thompson said the crimes could lead prosecutors to pursue a death sentence.
“Clearly for first-degree murder the death sentence is a possibility in this case – particularly when it deals with children,” he said.