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Suspect Arrested In Killing Of East Palo Alto Community Leader

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Hillsdale Mall shooting, David Lewis

Police on the scene of the June 9, 2010 shooting at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo. (CBS)

SAN MATEO (BCN) – Investigators have arrested a suspect in the June fatal shooting of East Palo Alto community leader David Lewis, San Mateo police announced Monday.

Lewis, 54, was gunned down in the parking lot of the Hillsdale Shopping Center at about 5:40 p.m. on June 9, police said.

Gregory Elarms, 58, of Pittsburg, was arrested early Sunday morning at San Mateo police headquarters, San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer said.

“We have reason to believe that Mr. Gregory Elarms killed David Lewis in cold blood,” Manheimer said at a news conference at the police station Monday.

She said Elarms has an extensive criminal history that dates back to 1969 but doesn’t have any recent arrests.

Manheimer said Elarms and Lewis knew each other but it’s not clear for how long.

“I can’t say, but I believe for a while,” Manheimer said.

She said she couldn’t comment on the nature of their relationship or whether their contact had been through the East Palo Alto nonprofit Lewis co-founded, Free at Last.

Lewis’ daughter, Shyvonne Lewis, 28, of East Palo Alto, said she believes her father and Elarms may have known each other since childhood, but said she had never met him.

“It’s shocking to hear that someone who knew my dad for as long as he did would do something like that,” she said.

Manheimer said investigators believe Elarms followed Lewis to the shopping center from the nearby San Mateo Medical Center, where Lewis was conducting HIV testing and counseling.

She said the motive for the shooting has not been determined, but that words were exchanged before shots were fired.

Elarms has been linked to a car that matches the description of a black sedan seen leaving the area after the shooting, Manheimer said.

Investigators have questioned Elarms extensively, Manheimer said, and “have confidence” that he is the killer.

She would not say whether Elarms had turned himself in, but said he had contacted police “willfully” and had at one point called police with a tip in the case.

It was only in the past few days that investigators began to suspect him in the killing, she said.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson, whose district includes East Palo Alto, said she hopes the arrest provides residents with some comfort.

“This certainly is a tremendous Christmas gift to the community of East Palo Alto and everyone who knew and loved him,” she said. “All of us should be able to sleep a little bit better knowing that justice is served.”

Lewis said she is grateful for the support her family has received and for the information that community members have provided to police.

“I know that my dad would be happy about the community and how they have reacted,” she said.

East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis attended Monday’s news conference, along with San Mateo Deputy Mayor Brandt Grotte and District Attorney Jim Fox.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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