AUSTIN (KXAN) — The 20-year-old man wanted in connection with the death of his boyfriend after his body was found with gunshot wounds on the side of the road near the Onion Creek Greenbelt Sunday evening has fled to Mexico, according to Austin police.
Juan Zapata, 38, was found dead by a person walking their dog along Onion Creek Drive near Springville Lane Sunday evening.
Zapata managed a restaurant called Catedral del Marisco. An employee at the restaurant called authorities Sunday morning asking that a welfare check be performed after he didn’t show up for work, court documents reveal. When he wasn’t found at his home, he was reported missing.
A witness told police Zapata and his 20-year-old boyfriend, Juan Eduardo Rendon, had been arguing the day before and that Zapata told her he had locked Rendon out of the house. According to police, Rendon had moved into the house about a month ago.
The witness told police she “expressed concern as Rendon had previously threatened to kill Zapata if he had ever tried leaving him,” officials wrote. She also told police she’d seen Rendon pick Zapata up from work the night before and that was the last time she’d heard from Zapata.
As Zapata’s friends and family searched for him, investigators learned his cousin tried to reach Rendon. When he wouldn’t respond to calls, the relative told investigators she texted him to let him know Zapata was missing and Rendon’s contact information had been given to police. Rendon allegedly responded to the text to say he hadn’t heard from Zapata “in quite some time.”
Zapata’s cousin also told police that she found what looked like blood in the trunk of Zapata’s car, which was parked outside his empty home. She feared foul play. She also told police Zapata had previously told her “Rendon was quite capable of killing him and remarked that she needed to look for his body should he come up missing.”
When police reached out to Rendon’s father, he told them his son had unexpectedly shown up at his home at 1 a.m. Sunday, stayed for a few minutes and left.
Hours later, Zapata’s body was discovered with gunshot wounds. He was wearing a shirt embroidered with the name of the restaurant he worked, along with his name and position. A post-mortem autopsy determined Zapata had died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. After conducting a search of Zapata’s home, investigators concluded he never made it home Saturday night after being picked up from work.
According to an APD briefing Tuesday, early on in their relationship Zapata had purchased a gun for Rendon. It is unknown whether or not this was the murder weapon. In a police search of the victim’s home, officials did not find a gun.
Rendon was charged with first-degree felony murder Monday and his bond has been set at $100,000. According to a press release from Austin Police Homicide Unit Wednesday, Rendon has fled to Mexico. APD is in the process of obtaining a provisional arrest warrant.
Grieving family: “We all loved him”
Zapata’s cousin Margarita Alejo said, “He was always a joy. He would lift me up when I was sad. He had a way to make you smile.”
Alejo said her heart dropped when no one could get in touch with Zapata. She knew something was wrong because she remembered what Zapata had told her before.
“I would tell him to leave him. You do not deserve all this bad treatment,” she said. “I told him to go to police because a person that holds a gun to your head has no good intentions.”
Zapata’s loved ones said he worked at Catedral Del Marisco for 12 years. He managed its East Cesar Chavez Street and Anderson Lane locations.
Employees told KXAN Zapata was a hard worker and never missed a day.
The restaurants are raising money to help pay for Zapata’s funeral. His friends have also set up a Go Fund Me page.
His cousin, Alejo, hopes police will find their suspect soon.
“I want him to pay for what he did,” she said. “He should be in jail for life, and that would be sufficient for my family.”
KXAN’s Russel Falcon contributed to this story.