SOUTHLAKE, Texas — An organized, professional criminal outfit is suspected in the killing of a 43-year-old man outside the Southlake Town Square on Wednesday night, police say.
The victim was identified as 43-year-old Juan Guerrero-Chapa, a ranch owner and lawyer from Nuevo Leon, Mexico who had been residing in Southlake for two years.
While Police Chief Steve Mylett stopped short of connecting the plain-sight shooting death to a Mexican drug cartel, he did confirm that investigators believe the murder was a targeted affair conducted by professional killers.
"Obviously the nature of this homicide, the way it was carried out indicates –– and I said indicates –– an organization that is trained to do this type of activity," Mylett said during an afternoon news conference at the Southlake Police Department. "When you're dealing with individuals that operate on such a professional level, certainly caution forces me to have to lean towards that this is an organized criminal activity act. "
Guerrero-Chapa was shot dead at 6:47 p.m. in a parking spot in the 100 block of Grand Ave. at the Town Square, a popular outdoor shopping mall. He arrived with his wife about 45 minutes prior to shop. And as Guerrero-Chapa's wife loaded bags into their SUV, another newer model white SUV pulled in behind it.
Mylett said a man wearing a piece of cloth over his face exited the passenger side of the vehicle and immediately fired a barrage of shots into the car. Guerrero-Chapa was hit multiple times. He died Wednesday evening at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine. The suspects were gone within seconds, last seen driving westbound on FM 1709.
The shooter was a Hispanic man who stood between 5'7'' and 5'10''. The white SUV had Texas plates with the characters "B" and "Y." Mylett said investigators found nine shell casings at the scene.
Despite reports from some shoppers who said they didn't hear the gunshots, the chief said the department is confident the shooter did not use a silencer.
"One of our officers was working off duty in Town Square and was stationed in position on the steps of Town Hall. He heard the gunshots," Mylett said.
The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Texas Department of Public Safety are all assisting in the investigation. The wide array of local, state and federal investigators fueled speculation that the murder was related to a Mexican drug cartel.
Mylett refused to connect the two.
"There's a lot of information that's being circulated," Mylett said. "I'm not in the position to make any formal statement on that yet."
However, Mexican journalists have reported that Guerrero-Chapa represented high profile members of the brutal Gulf Cartel, including one man who was once its leader.
Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that Guerrero Chapa in 2002 represented Osiel Cardenas Guillen, a federal drug trafficker and former leader of the violent Gulf Cartel. Cardenas, who was known as the 'Friend Killer' and 'El Loco', is currently serving a 25 year sentence for drug dealing, money laundering and the attempted murder of federal agents related to a standoff in 1999.
Guerrero Chapa's former client oversaw a criminal outfit that flooded the United States with tons of cocaine and sparked a bloody conflict that has claimed nearly 50,000 lives in his home country.
Jose Reyez, a reporter with the Mexican investigative magazine Contralinea, also cites Guerrero Chapa as a defense lawyer for members of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel prior to their acrimonious, bloody split in 2010.
Guerrero-Chapa operated a privates business in Mexico and also practiced law there, Mylett said. He may have been affiliated with a law firm in McAllen, as well.
Mylett, however, said the department is still working with the FBI to confirm the Mexican journalism reports. He did say there was no indication that Guerrero-Chapa was living in hiding. However, a police car now sits outside his wife's location, a place where Mylett would not confirm.
Guerrero-Chapa also leaves behind three teenaged children. The chief would not say whether they attended school in Southlake or remained in the city.
Investigators do not beleive the killers stayed in the city. Mylett, meanwhile, said the targeted killing does not mean Southlake, one of the nation's most affluent suburbs, is incurring an influx of gang activity or is any less safe to live than it was on Monday.
"This happened in Southlake, this could have happened in any community anywhere in Texas or anywhere else," the chief said. "Southlake continues to be a very safe community, we enjoy a very low crime rate, this was not a random act where a gang member came into our community and randomly shot people, so it will continue to be a safe community."
This is the city of Southlake's first murder since 1999.
News 8's Marjorie Owens contributed to this report.