West Rowan manhunt – Iredell man accused of shooting dairy worker to death
By Shavonne Potts
MOUNT ULLA ó Authorities are looking for a man believed responsible for a shooting a dairy worker to death Tuesday morning.
Warrants were issued late Tuesday charging Balmore Merino, 38, of Iredell County, with first-degree murder.
He’s charged with the shooting death of Parra Policarpio, 43, of 2045 Mount Tabor Church Road.
Officials with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office are being generally tight-lipped about the investigation, though Capt. John Sifford confirmed, “The suspect and victim were known to each other.”
Both men are Hispanic. Sheriff George Wilhelm said he thought Merino was a native of Guatemala and said officers were worried he might try to return home.
Merino may be driving a dark blue 1999 Chrysler Town & Country minivan with North Carolina license TYJ-2299.
Securing the warrants capped a long day for officers.
They searched a wooded area much of the day for the man who killed Policarpio, who worked at Amity Hills Farm.
The shooting happened off Mount Tabor Church Road in the far-western side of Rowan County, a stone’s toss from Iredell County.
At the request of the Sheriff’s Office, the Rowan-Salisbury School System locked down several schools in the area following the killing.
Around 10:50 a.m., sheriff’s deputies responded to the shooting in front of a mobile home at 2065 Mount Tabor Church Road on the farm. Merino fled in a Ford van, which authorities found abandoned about 11:30 a.m. on Triplett Road, a short distance from the shooting.
“The suspect is armed with a handgun and should be considered dangerous,” a Sheriff’s Office press release said early in the day.
Authorities called in an interpreter for a Hispanic woman, who officials said witnessed the shooting. “We are trying to determine if they’re related,” Wilhelm said.
The owner of the farm, whom neighbors identified as Lonnie Hoffner, told investigators he was driving a piece of farm machinery when he heard someone shout behind him.
“He turned and saw the man point the gun and fire,” Wilhelm said of Hoffner.
The farmer drove into some nearby woods to get away from the gunman and called 911 on a cell phone.
Authorities brought in police dogs to aid in their search. Iredell County sheriff’s deputies also assisted.
Wilhelm said late Tuesday that most of the hunt may have been for naught. He said officers now believe someone picked up Merino in another vehicle at the time he abandoned the van.
Neighbors said Hoffner’s parents live on the farm, and Hoffner lives in China Grove.
Neighbors described Hoffner as a hard-working dairy farmer. One neighbor said he knew Policarpio and said he, too, was a hard worker.
Calvin Stovall, who lives near where the van was abandoned, said he saw the vehicle when he returned home late Tuesday morning. Stovall had just returned from taking his dog to the veterinarian and was going to go jogging.
He spotted the van around 11 a.m. and checked it, not knowing what had happened moments earlier.
He’d heard the patrol vehicles’ sirens and saw deputies stop a couple of people on Mount Tabor Church Road but still did not know what occurred just on the other side of his Triplett Road property.
He didn’t see anyone inside the van, and a short time later, Iredell County deputies pulled up to the van also.
Guns drawn, the deputies cautiously approached the van and soon discovered the suspect had left.
A handicapped sticker hung from the interior mirror of the black van, which has an electronic wheelchair ramp. The vehicle belonged to the woman who witnessed the shooting and lived at the mobile home at the shooting scene.
Sheriff’s deputies worked to pry open the door, which was locked, to dust the interior for fingerprints.
Investigators initially said the suspect had children in local schools, and the school system locked down Mount Ulla and Cleveland elementary schools and West Rowan Middle. Clearview Christian Academy also took the precaution of locking down.
Authorities later clarified they weren’t sure of the suspect’s relationship, if any, to the children, whose mother was a witness. The schools remained locked down the rest of Tuesday as a precaution.
Investigators ask anyone with information about the crime to call Sgt. Chad Moose at the Sheriff’s Office at 704-216-8687 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.
Staff writer Steve Huffman contributed to this article.
In June, firefighters were called to the farm where a fire started in the kitchen of a house at 2035 Mount Tabor Church Road.
The fire was electrical in nature. A farm employee, Mirna Guevara, was said to live at the location for about five years.
Fire officials said Guevara’s daughter was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Guevara was going to move into a mobile home, also on the property, next to the home.
The shooting occurred just in front of the mobile home.
Earlier this year, the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office were called to a house, just yards from the farm, on Mount Tabor Church Road, in response to a murder. Investigators said the suspect was a Hispanic man. No arrests have been made in that case.