Detectives search for motive behind random drive-by murder
Melida “Mellie” Mendez holds a photo of her son, Jeffrey, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Luling in 2008.
It was just past midnight on June 14, 2008 when residents living in a series of trailers along Paul Fredrick Street in Luling heard several loud bangs echo throughout the neighborhood.
Some thought the noise was firecrackers, while others recognized the bangs as gunshots.
Melida “Mellie” Mendez was one of those who knew she heard gunshots.
She had been visiting a friend at a trailer a few hundred feet from where she lived with her husband and two sons.
“When I heard the firing I said ‘that is not firecrackers.’ We went out and somebody got out of a car,” she said.
Mellie said she heard the person begging someone else to leave the scene. The duo eventually sped off in a white car.She did not know it yet, but the shooters’ target was her son, Jeffrey.
Only minutes before, Jeffrey had been safe in his home playing a video game he had bought that day. Although not yet a senior in high school, Jeffrey had already held a job for three years. Mellie said he first began working after she and Jeffrey’s father divorced when her son was 12.
“He went and talked to the guy at a car wash (for a job). He said, ‘I want to help my momma,’” Mellie said. “I remember he got his first check for $50 and he jumped so high. He was so excited.”
Although Jeffrey gave his checks to the household, Mellie said he did have certain things he wanted to purchase. For eight months he had been waiting to buy a video game and had asked for his check a day early so he could purchase the game as soon as it came out.
On the night of his murder, Jeffrey had been playing the long-awaited game for hours after getting off work until just minutes before his death. It was during a break from gaming that Jeffrey went down the street to find his mother.
Jeremy Pitchford, a detective with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said given the short amount of time between Jeffrey leaving his home and when he was shot to death, it is unlikely that his murder was planned.
“He was outside a minute and a half and he gets shot,” he said.
Only 350 feet separated the Mendez household from where Jeffrey’s body was ultimately found - behind the trailer where Mellie was visiting with her friend. In that small area, detectives found several homes and vehicles that had been shot.
“One guy’s trailer got hit and a piece of the wood from the framing of the trailer came through and hit (the homeowner) in his leg,” Pitchford said. “We are actually fortunate that there wasn’t a bunch of people killed.”
The gun used in the slaying was an assault rifle, either an AK-47 or an SKS, from which detectives gathered several shell casings. It appears the shots came from a car that followed Jeffrey down the street until he was at the trailer where his mother was staying. Detectives believe Jeffrey tried to hide behind a car when the shooting started.
“One shot hit him just below the chin and then went into his chest and killed him. There were a few others that travelled through the vehicle it looks like he was hiding behind. The bullets came apart and he had several fragments on other spots of his body,” Pitchford said. “He ran a short distance after that and then collapsed behind a trailer. He got shot near a car that was parked in the driveway of the trailer that his mother was in.
“He almost made it to where his mother was.”
Because Jeffrey made it to the back of the trailer after the fatal bullet struck him, his body was not immediately found. Not yet knowing that her son had been murdered, Mellie went in search of Jeffrey after she heard the shots and saw the car take off.
“He was not (at home) and I started crying,” she said.
Half an hour later, Mellie heard that Jeffrey had been found.
“My friend came and I said, ‘Where is Jeffrey?’ She only put her head down,” Mellie said. “I tried to run (to where the body was), but the police stopped me. I said, ‘Let me go! Let me go!’ but they wouldn’t let me see him.”
Now, six years later, the Sheriff’s Office is still searching for Jeffrey’s killer.
Rodney Madere, Chief of Investigations for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the case is one of the more puzzling ones he has worked on.
“There isn’t even a hint of a suspect or a hint of a motive,” he said.
Pitchford, who had just been promoted to detective in the months prior to becoming the lead investigator on the murder, said he had never seen a case with so little information.
“Everything else I’ve ever been on we’ve found the suspect or have a good idea who they are or have found the reason,” he said.
Investigators are especially perplexed because Jeffrey did not seem to have any enemies.
“Everybody said he was a nice guy, they never had any problems with him or anything like that. It is just so random,” Pitchford said.
Unfortunately for detectives, Mellie was the only one who saw anything suspicious that night.
A day after the shooting, Mellie said she traced Jeffrey’s steps and found bloody hand prints on the door of a nearby trailer Jeffrey had tried to enter after being shot in the leg. She found more blood on a basketball lying on the ground.
The best theory the Sheriff’s Office has come up with is that Jeffrey was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Just in speculation, somebody was driving down the street and just said something between them and something came out and when it did he went to duck behind his mom’s friend’s car and they started shooting. Then they aimed at the bigger target, the car, and they hit him,” Pitchford said.
In the days after the murder, the Sheriff’s Office launched a full-scale investigation and sought input from the community, but no credible leads ever came in.
The Sheriff’s Office said the case is still open and they are seeking more information.
“We’d love for someone to give us something to go on,” Madere said. “Right now they have exhausted everything and there wasn’t a whole lot at the time. There wasn’t anyone to talk to."
Mellie said she still does not understand why someone would want to kill her son, who she said was responsible, hardworking, had never been arrested and did not use drugs.
“He was a very good boy. He was a very good baby. He was a very good teenager and I never had any problems with him. He was like an angel,” she said.
For Mellie, the memory of her son is still with her, but she feels there is nothing she can do.
“He is not here anymore and they are probably not going to find out who did it, but God is never going to forgive who did that,” she said. “They will pay.”
Anyone with information in this case should contact Det. Jeremy Pitchford at (985) 783-6807 or contact Crimestoppers at (877) 903-STOP.
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