WILMINGTON — New information on the death of Marine Corporal Edwin Maurico Estrada in downtown Wilmington indicates that the man who shot Estrada was a former police officer, security consultant and Navy veteran.
On Sunday, Nov. 19, Estrada was shot and killed. A search warrant served shortly afterward named Stephen Roger Hughes II as the man who admitted to having “shot and killed” Estrada. (You can read the complete warrant at the end of this article.)
The warrant, issued for a search of Hughes’ apartment at N. 273 Front Street, was based on probable cause, stating that Hughes called the “New Hanover 911 center to report that he has shot and killed an intruder at his residence.” It also notes that Hughes “told officers he shot Estrada.”
Police found Estrada dead just outside the back door of Hughes’ apartment, suffering from at least two gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Officers recovered two 9mm shell casings and seized Hughes’ P226 Sig Sauger 9mm semiautomatic pistol and several additional, loaded ammunition magazines.
Although it was clear from the 911 call that Hughes had identified himself and admitted to the killing, the recording was censored – removing Hughes’ name – before it was released to the press. At the time, Wilmington Police Department Public Affairs Officer Linda Rawley Thompson refused to say if Hughes, then unnamed but listed on public records as living at that address, was a suspect or even a person of interest.
Audio: Stephen Rogers Hughes calls 911 after shooting Edwin Estrada.
While the Police Department has declined to comment, questions arose about the shooter’s identify, in part based on the nature of the 911 call. During that call, Hughes was notably calm, and spoke using law enforcement jargon. Hughes told dispatchers “I just lethal force on an intruder on my business (sic),” and added he was securing the scene by doing “a preemptive preliminary security sweep.”
Hughes’ language and weapon raised questions. The P226 is popular with law enforcement, and one model is advertised by Sig Sauger as “the official sidearm of the U.S. Navy SEALs.”
Hughes himself was a former police officer and Navy veteran, who received his law enforcement training in Brunswick County.
Basic Law Enforcement Training Director Chantal Taunton confirmed the Hughes completed his training at Brunswick County Community College at the end of 2015.
Hughes then moved to Maine, accepting a job at the Ellsworth Police Department. After a brief period of additional training, Hughes was sworn in on Monday, Jan. 4 2016.
According to reporter Steve Fuller, who interviewed the newly-sworn-in Hughes for the Ellsworth American, Hughes “said he spent about 11 years in the Navy, including VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) and physical security work. After leaving the Navy, he worked as a security consultant for private businesses.”
Hughes served only briefly. Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier confirmed that Hughes was dismissed after a month.
“I can’t comment further on it, other than to say he was dismissed from (Ellsworth PD) and he moved back to North Carolina, where he came from,” Moshier said.
Hughes whereabouts in the months after being dismissed from Ellsworth PD are unclear. However, according to state voter records, Hughes has lived in an apartment at N. 273 Front St.
The Wilmington Police Department and the office of District Attorney Ben David have declined to comment on whether or not Hughes military and law-enforcement background have had any impact on the investigation. Ed Buice, spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said any statement on the investigation would have to come from the Wilmington Police Department.
It remains unclear why Hughes stated on the 911 tape that he was defending “his business,” as he is not the owner of the optometrist practice which occupies the ground floor of N. 273 Front St. The practice is owned by Dr. Tiffany Jackson, who declined to comment on her neighbor.
Employees at the neighboring businesses on North Front Street, Chadsworth Columns and New Elements Art Gallery, declined to give their names or comment. New Elements Art Gallery co-owner Miriam Oehrlein said police had asked her not to comment.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.