Flowers were placed at William Wiley Elementary School in West Richland after paraeducator Amber M. Rodriguez was shot at the school. / Photo by Karlee Van De Venter, Tri-City Herald

This is part one of an investigative series exploring the failings of various systems involved in the events leading up to the murders of Amber Rodriguez and Angelica Santos. Our goal with this series is to find the gaps and pain points in these systems so that readers can determine where changes must be made moving forward.

For more context, the article at contains detailed information, including links to updates, corroborating sources, and public documents. As always, we are making the public documents accessible to everyone at

On April 22, 2024,  the scanner channels in Benton County lit up with the alert. A shooting at Wiley Elementary school. Dispatchers announced a familiar name.  A known suspect to the West Richland Police Department. 

Elias Huizar killed his ex-wife, Amber Rodriguez, in front of their 9-year-old child at Wiley Elementary School where Rodriguez was a paraeducator at 3:23pm. 

Huizar shot Rodriguez multiple times. Their child managed to escape by running away and Wiley went into lockdown. 

The West Richland Police Department used their social media accounts to update the community on the situation as it unfolded, and by 6:55pm, WRPD released his name to the public.

Then, around 8pm,WRPD released another chilling update:

While serving a search warrant at the residence of homicide suspect Elias Huizar, West Richland Police Detectives and partner agencies discovered a second crime scene. A second homicide victim was found inside the residence. 

It was Angelica Santos, the mother of his one-year-old son. Santos was pronounced dead at the scene. Many people in the community had the same thought: “Where is the baby?” 

WRPD issued an Amber Alert for one-year-old Roman. 

Huizar had taken his son from his former home after killing Rodriguez, and left the state. He was found the next day in Eugene, Oregon. Huizar exchanged gunfire with police and was chased for miles before Huizar turned the gun on himself and died. 

It was just over 24 hours after the shooting at Wiley that WRPD released an update:

At approximately 3pm on Tuesday, April 23rd, the Oregon State Patrol located the subject vehicle driving southbound on Interstate 5, near Eugene, Oregon, and initiated a pursuit. 
The pursuit ended with OSP reporting that the suspect sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, with his current condition unknown. The 1-year-old child, Roman Santos, was taken safely into custody by OSP troopers. 

What now?

Tumbleweird published two articles on Huizar in April and May detailing how Elias Huizar, 39, was a former School Resource Officer (SRO) for the Yakima Police Department and former employee of the Richland School District. He was investigated several times for inappropriate sexual relationships with minors but never charged with a crime until February, 2024. Huizar had been charged with rape of a child and was awaiting trial and out on bound when he killed the two women and kidnapped the child.

Now, we are attempting to figure out where the system failed.

This month, we’re looking at the lack of communication between school districts and police departments, and the failure of the judicial system to protect Huizar’s victims.

Communication breakdown

Richland School District

May 13, 2024 RSD Records Specialist Nayomi Mungia replied to Tumbleweird’s renewed records request; we had asked for Huizar’s application, resume, and references when he was still alive. Mungia wrote: 

“...Those records are still exempt under RCW 42.56.250(1)(B) even though Mr. Elias Huizar has passed away.”

RSD hired Huizar to work as an emergency certificated substitute in 2022 as detailed in the April issue of Tumbleweird. Huizar was hired at a turbulent time in Richland. It was in the midst of political shenanigans by the ‘anti-mask crusaders’ and the district was dealing with a very high-stress environment. 

The school board was led by now recalled Governor candidate Semi Bird, along with his co-recalled board chums Audra Byrd and Kari Williams. We previously wrote about it back in February 2022, “School Board Debacle Explained”. 

RSD confirmed that Huizar was hired to work in an email exchange detailed in the May issue

After Huizar killed his ex-wife Amber Rodriguez at Wiley Elementary, RSD sent out a statement to the community with a timeline explaining how Huizar had been hired by the district, despite having been investigated in Yakima for inappropriate sexual conduct. In part the statement read:

January 31, 2022:
The Richland School District received a reference from the Principal of Franklin Middle School (Yakima School District), where Mr. Huizar was employed as a School Resource Officer. The principal rated Mr. Huizar as a “very good” candidate for the substitute position he applied for.
 February 2, 2022:
The Richland School District received a reference from the Vice Principal of Franklin Middle School (Yakima School District), where Mr. Huizar was employed as a School Resource Officer. The Vice Principal rated Mr. Huizar was an “excellent” candidate for the substitute position he applied for.

Huizar did not disclose on his application that he was under investigation for misconduct and he was able to pass background checks because he had never been convicted of a crime. 

Before Huizar was hired by RSD, he had had several encounters with West Richland Police, including a call to Wiley Elementary School, but RSD said that “No past investigations or allegations appeared in Mr. Huizar’s background checks.”

West Richland Police 

Huizar had several different contacts with the West Richland Police Department starting in March 2021. WRPD was investigating a case involving inappropriate contact with a minor. Huizar had accused another man, a relative of his ex-wife, of communicating with a minor on Snapchat. WRPD noted that Huizar was a police officer in the report, and that they investigated and did not find any evidence of wrongdoing. 

 Another case involved a Child Protective Service call where Huizar alleged his ex-wife was physically abusing their children. A Guardian ad-litem was appointed to represent the children in the investigation

Finally, a disturbance call by WRPD to Wiley Elementary never resulted in any charges to Huizar. At the time, he was still an employee of the Yakima Police Department. The police considered it a domestic matter. 

Yakima School District

It was early April 2024 when we first approached Yakima School District about information regarding Huizar. At the time, all that was known was that Huizar had been employed at two middle schools in Yakima working as an SRO. The public relations officer for the Richland School District had sent information to Tumbleweird, stating:

On February 8, 2022, the Richland School District also received notification from Yakima School District’s Human Resources Department that Mr. Huizar had no sexual misconduct notes while employed for their district.

It wasn’t until after the shooting that Kirsten Fitterer, the Chief Communications Officer for Yakima School District, agreed to answer questions regarding Huizar. YSD was asked why they had given Huizar a reference as an “excellent” candidate to RSD. Their complete response is included in our documentation. It was largely a reiteration of district policies and a reminder that Huizar’s employer was the Yakima Police Department when he was an SRO for Yakima School District.

Fitterer said of Huizar, “During his tenure as a district employee, no complaints were received concerning his conduct.” Regarding the references Huizar had received from Franklin Middle School, Fitterer said:

The district does not control the individual references provided by staff members. References are based on the direct experiences and observations of the person giving the reference. We are unaware if Richland School District requested and/or received a reference directly from Mr. Huizar’s actual employer, the Yakima Police Department.

Yakima School District sent a message on May 3, 2024  to their staff after the shooting regarding the death of Angelica Santos, who had been a YSD student  at two elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, and was currently enrolled in Yakima ONLINE school while living in West Richland. In the message, YSD Superintendent Dr. Trevor Greene stated in part: “This devastating situation has deeply affected us all, especially as the perpetrator had past affiliations with our district as a coach and as a Yakima Police Department SRO.”

Yakima Police Department

The YPD employed Huizar as detailed in the April issue of Tumbleweird, where YPD Police Chief Mathew Murray answered many questions regarding Huizar’s employment and the investigations into Huizar. 

In a follow up inquiry on April 27,  Chief Murray was asked again why Huizar was on leave for 191 days before he was separated from YPD. Chief Murray replied within 15 minutes:

I am unable to answer that question.  My understanding is that this specific protection remains after death.

In reporting by other news outlets and according to court filings by Huizar’s ex-wife, Huizar suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), abused alcohol, had depression, insomnia, and a personality disorder. 

When Huizar was arrested in February 2024, several guns were at his home. The SWAT  invoiced those firearms during the arrest. On pages 4 and 5 of the inventory taken by the police, two guns are listed; a Glock and a Colt. 

The court’s failure to protect

After Huizar was arrested in February, he was released from jail on a bond of $50,000. His bail was set at $250,000 which, according to Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger, was an appropriate amount because of Huizar’s lack of criminal history and connections to the community. According to Eisinger, “[Huizar’s] firearms were seized by SWAT when they were called out to the residence to make the arrest in February. The court entered an order prohibiting him from possessing firearms.”

In the documents provided by Eisinger, there were two separate rapes that Huizar was charged for on February 8th: rape in the second degree for the unnamed underage victim who was friends with the mother of his one-year-old child, and rape in the third degree for rape of a child that resulted in a pregnancy. This child was Angelica Santos. 

Amber Rodriguez / Obituary

Amber Rodriguez

Amber Rodriguez applied for a protection order on February 7 and was denied because, according to the document, she did not include information that would contain reasons for the order.  

She reapplied for another restraining order on February 9 and it was granted. This was a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO)

At the time, Rodriguez and her attorney requested that Huizar surrender his weapons. In the multiple page filing, Rodriguez requested no contact, for Huizar to stay away, and included Huizar’s stalking behavior in her request. 

In her written declaration on April 17, Rodriguez stated: “I believe he would try to cause harm to my children and I.” 

Rodriguez went on to say that “the 17-year-old [Angelica Santos] is the same girl that had allegations against the respondent when she was 11 years old…. I didn’t make the connection until I saw the police report with her name. The respondent and our sons only call her by a nickname only.” 

Rodriguez described how Huizar would physically abuse Santos in front of Rodriguez’s children. Rodriguez’s children had said that Huizar was violent and destructive, and that he had sex with Santos in front of them. 

Rodriguez wrote: 

As of April 17, 2024, the respondent has not reached out to see our children since February…. I did receive a text from the girlfriend… which I found to be inappropriate and odd. She has never reached out before which makes me wonder if the respondent has reconnected with her.

Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger provided the charging documents for April 22nd, when the manhunt for Huizar began after the shooting at Wiley Elementary. Huizar was charged with premeditated intent to cause the death of Amber Rodriguez with a firearm enhancement. The charge also came with an aggregation factor because their child witnessed his mother’s murder. 

Angelica Santos / Facebook (Tiffany Mariee)

Angelica Santos

The Court had issued restraining orders for both Angelica Santos and her unnamed minor friend that was allegedly raped by Huizar. 

Attorney Tami Nida Artzen, said she believes that Benton and Franklin county courts have not been ordering weapons surrenders often: 

The law clearly tells our courts to order weapons surrender in civil protection… domestic violence protection orders. However, our local courts have decided that they are worried about a Constitutional violation…. There are several grounds that have been floated. It's not a second amendment issue. It's more of a self incrimination issue…. In my opinion, the law is clear and makes it mandatory that they require a weapons surrender. However, across our state, they have this difference of opinion.

Artzen said there was no weapons surrender order or review hearing set in Huizar’s case. “That part was lined out,” said Artzen. In the petition for the protection order, Rodriguez said that Huizar’s abusive behavior was documented in her divorce paperwork. Rodriguez also made it clear that Huizar had firearms, including a handgun

Additionally, the court issued a no contact order on behalf of Angelica Santos. Artzen explained, “The judge issues the no contact order. It's not something that the victim asks for necessarily… but the judge can issue it whether or not the victim wants it.” So Huizar was legally denied any contact with Santos. 

Artzen added, “Fundamentally, a protection order is a piece of paper. But most people respect that it carries the weight of the law and they respect the consequences.” 

Photo by Emiraven on Unsplash


In Washington state, Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) were approved into law in 2016. According to Initiative 1491, an ERPO “authorizes courts to issue a warrant to seize firearms from the subject of an extreme risk protection order who has failed to surrender firearms as required by the order.”

Law enforcement or a person that believes a subject is at risk can file for the protection order. In Washington state, some counties have had zero ERPOs filed. In an article written by Richard Badalamente, while the law has been in place for over 6 years, it has been used very sparingly. In fact, the state’s Basic Law enforcement academy wasn’t even training on ERPOs or how to enforce them, says Badalamente. And, as of October 2023, “there’s been a failure to effectively implement the Extreme Risk Protection Order law, especially in Benton and Franklin counties. There were almost 10,000 serious crimes in Kennewick between 2017 and 2022; many involving domestic violence. But only three ERPOs were filed during those five years.”

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, ERPOs or ‘Red Flag Laws’ can temporarily  keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Under federal law, people with serious mental illness are not prohibited from owning a gun unless they have been involuntarily psychiatrically hospitalized or have a court disposition related to mental illness (e.g. not guilty by reason of insanity). ERPOs differ from existing federal and state law because they allow for preventive action in the absence of a civil disposition or criminal conviction.

Tumbleweird wrote to Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger regarding Huizar’s weapons and bail. Here is the written response of the Prosecutor:

Can you explain how the bail amount was set? 

Elias Huizar was arrested and charged with rape in the second degree and rape of a child in the third degree. Based on the nature and severity of the charges, the two victims in the two cases and the information we had regarding his life circumstances we requested a combined bail amount of $250,000, which was granted by the court. In addition, the court entered an order prohibiting him from contacting the victims and from possessing firearms. The court’s decision to set bail is based on Criminal Rule 3.2.
In order to hold a defendant on bail the court must find that the defendant presents a risk of flight or that there is a likely danger that the defendant will commit a violent offense or seek to intimidate witnesses. CrR 3.2(a). This determination is based on the information available to the prosecution and the court at the time of the preliminary appearance and is described in the probable cause statement filed with the court. Mr. Huizar was arrested and placed in custody on a 72-hour hold on the same day the victims made their initial report to law enforcement. It was only a few days later that we made a charging decision and requested bail based on all the information available to us at the time.

Was $250,000 a normal amount? 

The court typically looks at prior criminal convictions, connections to the community and specific information related to the dangerousness of the defendant when establishing bail. Because Mr. Huizar had no known convictions and because he resided in Benton County the $250,000 bail that was requested and granted by the court was appropriate based on the information we had at the time. Obviously if we could have anticipated the tragedy that would later occur, we would have asked for an even higher bail setting.
Based on what we knew of the case, we asked for a higher bail setting than we would typically ask for based on the standards provided in Criminal Rule 3.2.

Huizar was only required to put up a small amount and was apparently still living with his young victim Angelica Santos. 

Defendants held on bail must post cash or a bail bond to be released. In this instance, a bond was posted for Huizar’s release. Typically, a bond requires payment of a non-refundable fee and requires the provision of collateral, in this case in the amount of $250,000, to a bail bond company. The court released Huizar on the condition to not have any contact with the victims. Huizar clearly did not abide by that order.

How are people out on bail monitored? 

Defendants are required to appear for regular court hearings, report to their attorney, maintain law abiding behavior and comply with other conditions established by the court. A defendant who violates his or her conditions of release is subject to reincarceration and other sanctions. Typically, this starts with a request by the prosecution when we learn that a defendant is in violation of the court’s conditions.

Was there ever an Extreme Risk Protection Order filed by Benton County as permitted under law? Does Benton County ever file ERPOs? 

I have reviewed the protection order matter filed by Amber Rodriguez, however I do not believe that a separate ERPO was filed by law enforcement. An ERPO petition may be filed by an intimate partner or family member of the respondent or by law enforcement.
If granted, an ERPO petition will restrict a respondent from possessing firearms. In this case, law enforcement seized Huizar’s weapons when he was arrested and booked into the Benton County Jail, and the court entered an order prohibiting him from possessing firearms. To my knowledge, law enforcement does not often file ERPO petitions, but you would need to check with the Benton County Clerk on this. The reason for this is that there are other ways to force a respondent to surrender their firearms, particularly where an arrest occurs and criminal charges are initiated. 

Was Huizar ever required by the courts to surrender his weapons or did his weapons get returned to him after he was released from custody on bail?  

Huizar’s firearms were seized by the SWAT team when he was arrested. The court entered an order prohibiting him from possessing firearms. His firearms were not released to him after bail was posted.

Do we know yet what gun was used to kill Amber Rodriguez? Is that the same weapon that was noted in the police report from February? 

The case is still under investigation and as a result I am unable to disclose this information. 

Next month, we’ll take a look at hiring and training practices at schools, as well as volunteer policies.