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They thought it was road rage. But years later, police say a shooting on I-295 was far more elaborate.

Authorities believe the shooter was targeting a man he believed to have killed his father more than a decade earlier, a detective testified

The scene near I-295 where Pedro Melendez-Alvarado was shot and killed in Washington in 2015. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
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After 50-year-old Pedro Melendez-Alvarado was shot and killed in 2015 while driving along I-295 in the District, police suspected the incident might have been a case of road rage.

But at a court hearing this week for the man charged in the case, a detective outlined a far more elaborate plot: an aggrieved son, he alleged, was targeting a man he believed had killed his father more than a decade earlier.

The new information emerged at a two-day hearing in D.C. Superior Court for 32-year-old Oscar Ramos, who was arrested last fall. He is charged with first-degree murder while armed and other offenses in the fatal shooting of Melendez-Alvarado, a father, uncle and brother.

Melendez-Alvarado had been driving on I-295 North near exit one during the busy morning rush hour at about 8:30 a.m. on May 28, 2015, when people in another vehicle began shooting into the car, authorities have said. Melendez Alvarado died at the scene. A person in the passenger seat was injured.

For years, the case remained unsolved, and police believed Melendez-Alvarado may have been shot by an angry motorist during an altercation in traffic, in part because of the account of the passenger in the car.

But D.C. homicide detectives got a break in 2017, when they were tipped that Ramos may have been the shooter. They began investigating, and found witnesses who claimed that Ramos had targeted Melendez-Alvarado as part of a retaliation plan he orchestrated because — in his telling — Melendez-Alvarado killed his father almost 15 years earlier, when Ramos was 12 and living in El Salvador.

There has not been any evidence that Melendez-Alvarado was charged with or actually committed such a killing, and the detective did not say whether police think Ramos’s belief was founded. A prosecutor raised questions about his credibility at the hearing. Relatives of Melendez-Alvarado have said he lived an inconspicuous life that seemed unlikely to attract violence, most of it centered around work and sending money back to relatives in El Salvador. The Post was unable to reach relatives for comment Friday.

For his part, Ramos has pleaded not guilty, and his defense attorney raised questions about the credibility of the witnesses detectives interviewed.

D.C. homicide detective Kenniss M. Weeks testified in court that at least three witnesses told authorities that Ramos relocated from El Salvador to the Washington area illegally, setting up a fictitious Facebook account of a Latina woman and flirting with Melendez-Alvardo to determine his whereabouts.

“He used the account to lure the decedent to his death,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman argued.

Weeks did not identify the witnesses, but said three were part of the Latino street gang MS-13, and one was charged with a 2017 homicide. They were on authorities’ radar in part because of an FBI investigation into the gang’s conduct, Weeks said.

Weeks said that Ramos admitted “avenging” his father’s death during two separate interviews with police in 2018 and 2021. In one of the interviews, Ramos told police his father was killed in 2005 back in El Salvador. But in a second interview, he said the killing occurred in the U.S. but gave no further specifics.

“This shows the defendant can’t keep his stories straight,” Liebman said.

Ramos had been deported twice to El Salvador but returned to the U.S., the prosecutor argued. In 2021, he was arrested and convicted of illegal reentry.

Rachel E. McCoy, Ramos’s defense attorney, argued there was no direct evidence, such as eye witnesses or DNA, connecting Ramos to the fatal shooting. She argued the three witnesses who connected Ramos to the shooting were gang members, one of whom gave information about the shooting before he was sentenced in his own homicide case. “They are doing this for their own personal benefit,” McCoy argued.

McCoy also noted that while there was abundant Facebook communication between Melendez-Alvarado and the account the prosecutor said Ramos created, there was no conversation in which Melendez-Alvarado gave his home address or his commuting route, which would have allowed Ramos to target him on the road. “It makes no sense,” she argued.

The judge, while citing concern about the credibility of the three gang members, determined the evidence “collectively” against Ramos was strong, and the case could move forward. She also ruled Ramos was a “flight risk” and a “danger to the community” and ordered him to remain in the D.C. jail until trial.

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.