KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Mexican national charged with killing five men in Kansas and Missouri this week was sought by immigration authorities last year, but they sent the detention order to an agency that didn't have him in custody.
It was not the first time Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, who was in the U.S. illegally, eluded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to the agency, in June 2015 officials from a Kansas county where Serrano-Vitorino faced domestic battery charges queried federal immigration officials about him because he was born outside the country, but ICE didn't respond before the county let him go.
Serrano-Vitorino is now charged with killing a neighbor and three other men on Monday night in Kansas, then gunning down another man Tuesday morning at the man's rural home in central Missouri. He was captured early Wednesday morning.
Serrano-Vitorino, 40, was deported in April 2004 because he was in the country illegally, but he re-entered at some unknown time, ICE said by email.
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Police: Man who was deported in 2004 held in connection to 5 deaths in the Midwest
Serrano-Vitorino, who has been living in Kansas City, Kansas, was fingerprinted Sept. 14 at the Overland Park Municipal Court after being cited for traffic violations. That triggered an ICE order to have him detained. But ICE said it sent the order to the Johnson County Sheriff's Office instead of to the Overland Park Municipal Court.
Court administrator Robin Barnard said Serrano-Vitorino showed up at the court the next month to pay a $146 fine. He was never in custody of any local authorities for the traffic violations.
ICE said that had its order been sent to an agency that had Serrano-Vitorino in custody, it would have sought to deport him.
Earlier last year, Serrano-Vitorino was booked on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge in Kansas City, Kansas. The Wyandotte County Sheriff's Department sent ICE an overnight query about him, sheriff's Lt. Kelli Bailiff said Wednesday, but when ICE did not respond within the required six-hour period, Serrano-Vitorino was released.
ICE said the query, which did not involve his fingerprints, required the agency to interview Serrano-Vitorino, something it wasn't able to do between when the sheriff's office sent it at 1:30 a.m. and released Serrano-Vitorino at 7:30 a.m.
Authorities have not released a motive for the rampage that began Monday.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman, whose office has charged Serrano-Vitorino with four counts of first-degree murder, declined to discuss a possible motive, saying only that the Kansas killings did not appear drug-related.
Messages left with his Missouri public defender Wednesday were not returned. Serrano-Vitorino is jailed in Montgomery County, Missouri, on $2 million bond stemming from the Kansas charges.
When he was captured, Serrano-Vitorino had an assault-style rifle with him, said John Ham, a regional spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He said agents were trying to determine how he acquired the weapon.
"If he was in the country illegally, and that certainly appears to be the case, it would have been illegal for him to have a firearm under federal law," Ham said.
The Kansas victims were identified as Serrano-Vitorino's neighbor, 41-year-old Michael Capps, and three other men who were at Capps' home: local brothers Austin Harter, 29, and Clint Harter, 27; and 36-year-old Jeremy Waters, of Miami County, Kansas. Before dying, one of the four managed to call police, prompting a manhunt.
The slain Missouri man was 49-year-old Randy Nordman, whose property was about 5 miles from where a truck was found abandoned along Interstate 70 that Serrano-Vitorino was believed to have been driving.
Serrano-Vitorino has had at least one previous conviction — an unspecified terrorist threat for which he was sentenced to two years in a California prison — that led to his 2004 deportation, according to ICE.
ICE also said Serrano-Vitorino was convicted in 2014 of driving under the influence in southeast Kansas. But ICE records don't show the agency was notified that Serrano was fingerprinted at that time.
Gorman, the Kansas prosecutor, declined to criticize ICE on Wednesday, saying he was reserving judgment "because I don't have all the facts."
"Obviously we wish it hadn't happened, (and) we'd love to discuss with ICE why it happened," he said.