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Fugitive LAPD rookie once had a 'straight arrow' reputation

Henry Solis' peers thought he would serve with the LAPD forever. He is now a fugitive facing murder charges

The haunting last image of Henry Solis in the United States was taken by a security camera at the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border.

It shows the rookie Los Angeles police officer, dressed in blue jeans and a brown leather jacket, looking up at the camera as his father escorts him into Mexico.

Authorities allege the photo captures an escape plan swiftly hatched after Solis, 27, fatally shot a man after an argument near downtown Pomona's nightlife district on March 13.

Solis called his father, who told authorities he drove his son 800 miles to El Paso, according to an affidavit. Solis, authorities said, vowed never to be seen again.

Now, as police hunt for the fugitive, friends and family are left trying to understand how a young man who served as a Marine in Iraq and spoke excitedly about patrolling the streets of Los Angeles could be a murder suspect on the run.

They remember a charming, clean-cut man who politely addressed women at bars as "miss" and had little sympathy for cops who broke their oath.

Even authorities are struck by the contradictions.

"We consider him armed and dangerous," said FBI Special Agent Scott Garriola, noting that several weapons Solis had access to are missing. "I don't know if there's a threat to the general public at large. His past behavior doesn't indicate that — other than that one night."

Fueled by a desire to serve

Maria De Lourdes Solis was 19 when she gave birth to Henry shortly after midnight on July 29, 1987, at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, according to his birth certificate.

He grew up in Boyle Heights and the Antelope Valley, according to federal officials and his Facebook page. He also spent significant time in San Elizario — a small city along the Rio Grande just outside El Paso — where his dad purchased two modest homes, according to property records.

In the summer of 2005 — as his peers celebrated high school graduations — Solis enlisted with the Marines.

He was deployed on Operation Iraqi Freedom for a seven-month tour of duty, part of President George W. Bush's troop surge, according to his military record.

He was promoted to sergeant in 2009, and Garriola said Solis served in several foreign countries as a member of the Marine Security Guard, an elite unit charged with protecting classified information at American embassies and providing security to diplomatic staff.

It was a prestigious post befitting a "straight arrow" like Solis, according to a Marine who served with him in several countries and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"He wasn't like a normal college kid going out, getting drunk and taking selfies," he said. "He was driven."

Solis left the Marines in 2011, and during the next year, he told friends on his Facebook page that he had moved to El Paso and was taking classes at a community college there, with plans to transfer to a university.

By 2013, he was back in Southern California, attending Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, majoring in fire technology. He did not graduate, according to a university spokeswoman.

That same year, his father transferred ownership of one of his San Elizario properties to him, according to property records.

For a while he worked as a supervisor for a San Bernardino County-based draperies company where his father had also worked, according to his former boss.

He graduated from the police academy in November 2014 and was assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division in the San Fernando Valley. He had a spotless disciplinary record and an otherwise "unremarkable" few months with the department, said LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith.

"He was a good officer — really calm," said a longtime officer in the Devonshire Division who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Solis. "He was very professional at work."

As a probationer, the officer said, "You take orders, keep your mouth shut and do your job. You don't shoot the breeze that much."

Friends said Solis talked about his new job with a deep sense of pride. He regularly wore a "city of Los Angeles" cap and told friends he had found a way to serve others like he had in the Marines.

"I thought that was what he was going to do for the rest of his life," said a friend who met him through fellow Marines.

Solis was an easygoing bachelor, they said. His wide smile and easy charm made for quick conversation whenever he went clubbing.

Thrust onto a different path

Solis was clubbing in downtown Pomona in the early morning hours of March 13 when he encountered Salome Rodriguez Jr., a 23-year-old truck driver and onetime Catholic missionary.

Solis and Rodriguez got into some type of dispute, though police have not said what it was over. There was a "physical altercation" before Solis chased Rodriguez on foot and fired several bullets at Rodriguez, according to court documents.

A medical professional who treated Rodriguez but was not authorized to speak publicly said he was shot at least five times: twice in the abdomen, twice in the leg and once in the lower neck.

Solis didn't show up for work on March 14, Smith said. That night, the Pomona Police Department announced he was a "person of interest" in the fatal shooting of Rodriguez.

Solis' driver's license photograph — showing a clean-shaven man with a barrel-like nose and manicured eyebrows — was plastered across the news as officials alerted the public to look out for his car: a gray or silver Volkswagen Jetta.

But by then, authorities now say, he was probably in Mexico.

After the shooting, he called his father, Victor Solis, who promptly left his Lancaster home to pick him up and take him to El Paso, according to a sworn affidavit. Victor Solis is in federal custody on charges that he lied to investigators.

Solis' Jetta was found March 15 just five blocks from the shooting scene.

Garriola said Mexico is familiar territory for Solis: He speaks Spanish and had visited the country regularly. It would be easy, he said, for Solis to slip away there.

"We'll see how well he planned his escape," Garriola said.

The twists and turns of the case have left Rodriguez's family stunned.

"He took care of us, watched over us," Brian Rodriguez said about his late brother. "No one can take his place, ever."

On Friday before praying the rosary, his mother, Lidia Rodriguez, said she takes solace in the promises by Pomona detectives that her son's alleged killer will be caught.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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