SAN DIEGO - The family of a man suspected in a triple homicide says they are sorry for any pain the victims' families have felt since the killings.
In a letter released Monday evening, the family of suspect Carlo Mercado wrote,
"On behalf of Carlo Mercado, we would like the community to know how sorry we are for any pain the Flint and Belvedere families have suffered and are suffering.
We have only had limited contact with Carlo since his arrest and have not been made aware of any evidence against him. We remain fully supportive of him and ask the public to respect our privacy during this difficult time.
……Family of Carlo Mercado"
At a Monday morning news conference, San Diego police refused to provide any details on the arrest of 29-year-old Mercado, including a possible motive for the killings.
"I know you have many questions, probably very detailed, and fact-specific questions, that we simply cannot answer at this stage in the process," San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said.
Mercado is in custody in connection with the shooting deaths of two brothers and a woman who was engaged to one of them, a crime that came to light when two of the victims were found mortally wounded in a parked car at Westfield Mission Valley shopping center last Christmas Eve.
Mercado was taken into custody Friday night in Mira Mesa on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder, according to San Diego police.
Mercado's arrest came nearly six months after Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere, both 22, were found fatally shot shortly before 1:30 a.m. Dec. 24 at the Camino del Rio North mall, which was open late for last-minute holiday shopping. Flint managed to call 911 shortly before she died at the scene. Belvedere died at a hospital two days later.
Gianni Belvedere, 24, was missing for several weeks following the shootings of his fiancee and brother. In mid-January, his body was found in the trunk of a car outside a fast-foot restaurant in Riverside. He also had been shot in the head.
Zimmerman described the killings as a "tragedy felt by the entire San Diego community" and a devastating ordeal for the families of the victims.
Police told survivors late Saturday the bare details of the arrest, and the family called a 5 p.m. news conference at a small Lakeside pizza parlor.
"Upon hearing about the arrest, our family was overcome with emotion and relief at the same time," said Antoinette Belvedere, the sister of the murdered brothers. "Our families want to extend our deepest appreciation and thanks to the men and women of the San Diego Police Department."
She added, "We don't have any information yet about motive … But there is a sense of relief that someone has been caught."
Investigators found "substantial probable cause" linking Mercado to the slayings, homicide Lt. Mike Hastings said. He declined to elaborate and provided few additional details.
In response to a question about whether the suspect and victims knew each other or had any other prior connections, the lieutenant said, "I'm not sure there was any relation."
A friend of the Belvedere family told 10News a resident of the home where Mercado was arrested knows relatives of Sal and Gianni, but it is unclear if the Belvedere brothers knew the suspect.
U-T San Diego reported that Mercado was initially arrested on gun-related charges April 29. His attorney Michael Berg told reporters Sunday that authorities found weapons in his vehicle after he was randomly stopped at an Interstate 5 checkpoint near Camp Pendleton. The date of that incident was not immediately confirmed.
Court documents obtained by 10News reveal Mercado was charged with four felony counts after he was stopped at the I-5 checkpoint near Camp Pendleton in January, just days after Gianni Belvedere’s body was found. Court documents show he had an assault weapon in the car, along with other firearms. There was also a silencer attached to one of the firearms.
In a plea deal, Mercado pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm silencer. He has not yet been sentenced.
"Well they were gun-related charges," Berg said Sunday. "But for someone to have a gun-related charge and then be implicated in a triple homicide is quite a stretch."
"He absolutely denies any involvement in this," Berg added.
Mercado was being held without bail at San Diego Central Jail, with arraignment scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Over the weekend, the suspect was hospitalized. Authorities declined to disclose why he needed medical treatment.
Hastings would not confirm Monday whether he was back in jail or still in the hospital.