According to Vancouver police, Layla was shot twice in the head from a small caliber gun, similar to a .22. Melendez was shot once in the left temple, also from a small caliber gun, similar to a .22.
The police department cited physical and digital evidence collected as part of the investigation in booking Warren on suspicion of murder.
“We’re lost for words. The family is angry. The system failed her only granddaughter and daughter,” Michelle Bart, president and founder of the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, said on behalf of Melendez’s mother Friday evening. “This is a complete process; there’s a case that has to go to trial. Hopefully, he will plea out at this point. That’s what we’re hoping for. But, it’s going to be a long process, and it’s going to begin on Monday in court.”
Warren is scheduled to appear on the allegations Monday afternoon in Clark County Superior Court, according to the jail roster.
He is also charged in Jefferson County, Ark., Circuit Court with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse for allegedly shooting a man in the head and leaving his body in a ditch in November 2017, court records show.
“He claimed self-defense in the murder of that man in Arkansas,” Bart said. “How do you claim self-defense on a 7-year-old and her mother? You can’t. So no matter what comes out of his mouth from here on out, we’re going to get justice.”
Missing persons, homicide investigations
Vancouver police had conducted a welfare check on Melendez and Layla at about 2:15 p.m. March 18 at Springfield Meadows Apartments, 4317 N.E. 66th Ave., after family members reported they hadn’t heard from them since March 11. A friend told the family the pair hadn’t been home in several days, and their dog was inside the apartment barking, a police news release states.
When officers were let inside Melendez’s apartment, they found no one inside except for the dog, police said.
Officers learned Melendez, Stewart and Warren had gone to an acquaintance’s apartment at about 5 a.m. March 12. Layla stayed there while Melendez and Warren went out, according to the police department.
Warren returned at about 8 a.m., and the acquaintance said she saw Melendez “passed out” in the passenger’s seat of his burgundy Dodge Charger. The woman said she shook Melendez several times but could not wake her. Warren went inside the apartment, got Layla and drove off with both, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Friday afternoon in Superior Court.
National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation has established a Memorial Fund for Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart.
On March 19, Melendez’s mother found her daughter’s car, a Chrysler 200, in the 7800 block of Northeast Loowit Loop in the VanMall neighborhood. Police seized her car as evidence, the department previously said.
Also on March 19, police served a search warrant at Warren’s residence in the 3700 block of Northeast 109th Avenue in Vancouver’s Kevanna Park neighborhood, the department said. Officers arrested him on suspicion of tampering with a witness, unlawful possession of a firearm and violating a no-contact order with Melendez, stemming from a December incident.
Investigators seized multiple items, including two vehicles associated with Warren and three cellphones. They found blood in the front and back seat of the Dodge Charger, .22 shell casings, children’s clothing matching what Layla was believed to be wearing March 12 and a purse containing Melendez’s identification. They also found a .22 pistol in the center console of the second vehicle they searched, a Hyundai Palisade, according to court records and the updated police statement.
Investigators analyzed one of the cellphones seized during Warren’s arrest and discovered that at about 6:30 p.m. March 13, someone used Google Maps to view the area of Southeast 356th Avenue, near where Melendez and Layla’s bodies were later found. At about 8:30 p.m., someone searched “Southeast Woodings Road” in Apple Maps, and about 20 minutes later, saved a parking location where their bodies were found. Shortly after 9 p.m., the user began an Apple Maps trip to Warren’s residence, the affidavit states.
After Melendez and Layla’s bodies were found, investigators interviewed Warren at the jail. When asked if he thought authorities had found them, he allegedly said “I don’t know,” and then, “I hope not.” When told their bodies had been found, and he was presented with the evidence found in his car, he asked for an attorney, according to the affidavit.
Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart
Warren was originally accused of shooting at Melendez’s apartment in the Minnehaha area Dec. 13. At his initial first appearance March 3 in Superior Court, he was ordered to not have contact with Melendez. During that hearing, the prosecution said a danger assessment found Warren posed an “extreme risk” to Melendez, with a score of 31 on a scale of 1 to 18.
He was already charged with drive-by shooting, second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, gross misdemeanor harassment with bodily injury and two counts of fourth-degree assault, all charged as domestic violence crimes. He was also charged with making a false statement for allegedly lying on a gun application. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges.
At his March 3 hearing, Warren’s bail was set at $100,000. At that time, Clark County prosecutors did not request Warren wear a GPS ankle monitor — for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial — as part of his restrictions for release, and the court did not order electronic monitoring.
Warren posted bail later that day, court records indicate, and he was released March 8.
Cymber Tadlock, the deputy prosecutor who’s handling Warren’s Arkansas case, told the Associated Press that Vancouver police notified her March 2 they had arrested Warren for drive-by shooting and other allegations. The next day, they told her about Warren’s court appearance and bail.
But it wasn’t until March 14 that she received official paperwork from Clark County, according to the Associated Press. She then filed a motion to revoke Warren’s bail in the murder case there.
By then, Warren had already been released, just four days before Melendez and Layla went missing. Tadlock told the Associated Press the time it took to obtain an order revoking Warren’s bail was typical.
The victim in the Arkansas case, Curtis Urquhart, 57, was last seen Nov. 27, 2017, leaving a notary’s office in Pine Bluff with Warren, then 22. Urquhart’s body was found Dec. 11 of that year in a ditch west of Stuttgart, according to court records.
Warren allegedly told investigators the two men left the notary’s office together and drove around. He said Urquhart wanted money from him, but he refused to give it to him. Officers said Warren told them he became fearful for his life as he was driving, so he reached under the driver’s seat and pulled out a handgun and shot Urquhart in the head while driving, court records state.
Police arrested Warren on Dec. 12, 2017, and a judge set Warren’s bond at $250,000, which he posted the next day, court records show. The prosecution then filed the charges Feb. 7, 2018, in Circuit Court, and a judge ordered the same $250,000 bond amount.
His trial has been postponed numerous times for a variety of reasons, ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to witness illnesses to waiting on evidence. The case remains pending.
Warren is now being held without bail in the Clark County Jail on a warrant in the Arkansas case. He is also being held on $1 million bail in the drive-by shooting case.