Murder mystery case reopened by police

Posted: Updated:
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
This is a photo of the car in which the victim was riding when he was shot. By Mike Gertzman This is a photo of the car in which the victim was riding when he was shot. By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

 PHOENIX -- It's a murder mystery 10 years in the making. A man was shot and killed during a valley high school celebration. Now, a decade later, police are reopening the case.

It was May 18th, 2001 when gunfire erupted outside a Filiberto's at 35th Avenue and Camelback.

"A number of rounds were fired on the car, the vehicle was struck numerous times, everybody in the car tries to duck to avoid the gunfire and ultimately he was struck," explains Phoenix Police Detective Melissa Lutch,

22 year old Justin Ayala was one of the three inside this car that night. But he was the one who took a paralyzing bullet to the neck. Somehow he hung on for 6 agonizing months.

"I knew that something wasn't right anyways and I got this call that Justin had been shot." Justin’s mom, Deena Ayala tells us. "It seemed like it took forever to get to the hospital. I was just screaming and crying and begging god um, please don't take him."

Detective Lutch told 3TV, "I don't think it was random gunfire, I can tell you that. I think there's a little bit more to it."

"I truly believed that he was going to make it. To lose a child, something you can not explain," Deena Ayala says.

The case moved from aggravated assault to murder. Now years later, Detective Lutch explains, "We've had a number of witnesses years later come forward with additional information that we didn't initially have."

Lenee Ayala, Justin's sister told us, "The detective when she came over caught us off guard, ten and a half, 11 years later, at the door saying I'm reopening the case. I was in shock."

Detective Lutch believes while Justin and two friends grabbed a bite to eat at Filiberto's, someone was watching their every move, hiding behind a wall, just waiting for the right moment.

"The shooter took a lot of time and effort to conceal himself so the three guys in a car didn't see him,” Detective Lutch says, "

The police report reveals the chaos that unfolded. The driver saw shell casings flying everywhere. And the man in the backseat says he heard at least 15 shots."

"The physical evidence that I've reviewed points to this being a calculated event,” Detective Lutch told us.

The Alhambra seniors had just graduated and the guys had been to several celebrations earlier in the evening. At some point, it's believed words were exchanged with one of them. 

"Someone saw something that night, "Detective Lutch says." I'm confident that there are people out there who know about the shooting that happened at 35th Avenue.:"

Justin's mom and two sisters say that while they'll never stop hurting, they simply want one thing.

As Deena Ayala explains, "I want to know why. I definitely want to know why. I want to ask why."

Sunday, November 18th marks 11 years since Justin died. Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Phoenix Police at (602) 495-5392.