Arrest Made in Christmas Eve Mission Valley Killings

Carlo Gallopa Mercado, 29, is in custody, booked on three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the slayings of Ilona Flint, 22, and brothers Salvatore Belvedere, 22, and Gianni Belvedere, 24

An arrest has been made in the triple-homicide mystery that has enthralled San Diego since Christmas Eve 2013, San Diego police and family members of the victims confirmed Saturday.

The San Diego Police Department said Carlo Gallapo Mercado, 29, was arrested Friday in the 8700 block of Westmore Street in San Diego. He was booked on three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the slayings of Ilona Flint, 22, and brothers Salvatore Belvedere, 22, and Gianni Belvedere, 24. Mercado denies all the allegations against him, his attorney told NBC 7.

Mercado was booked into San Diego Central Jail. Inmate records indicate he's scheduled to appear in court for the first time Wednesday.

At a quick media briefing held Saturday in front of the family restaurant, Antoinette Belvedere, sister of Gianni and Salvatore, said the family had gotten a phone call from detectives Saturday morning telling them an arrest had been made in all three of the killings.

She said the family did not know the suspect tied to the triple-homicide case.

"We ask that you please respect our privacy as we process this new information," said Antoinette. "Our families want to extend our deepest appreciation and thanks to the men and women of the San Diego Police Department."

Antoinette said the family feels "relief" at this point, but is still trying to process the news.

"We're holding up. You know, it's a sense of relief to get this information that somebody's been caught, and we just got the news, so we're still processing everything," she added.

As for the suspect himself, the San Diego District Attorney's Office filed four gun-related charges against Mercado on May 5, his attorney confirmed.

Public records show Mercado had pleaded guilty to them, with his sentencing scheduled for July 9. 

Neighbors say they heard a great deal of commotion outside Mercado's Mira Mesa home Friday night as detectives banged on the door for about 20 minutes. 

When they finally reached the suspect, Mercado was arrested in his driveway and taken away in an unmarked car, according to bystanders.

"When you think you're two doors down from someone that is a suspect at killing someone, it makes you very nervous of your whole neighborhood," said Lori Dorman, who lives near Mercado. 

She describes the suspect as a quiet man who mostly kept to himself. 

"Never made a spectacle of himself. Didn't let you know anything was going on. It was just quiet," said Dorman. 

She told NBC 7 law enforcement vehicles lined the entire block, and she watched as detectives collected evidence in the killings. 

Flint and Salvatore were gunned down in a parking lot outside a Macy's department store at Mission Valley Mall in the early hours of Dec. 24, 2013. Flint died at the scene, while Salvatore died a few days later from injuries sustained in the shooting.

Gianni -- Salvatore's brother and Flint's longtime boyfriend-turned-fiance -- went missing following the shooting of his loved ones. The San Diego Police Department launched a missing person search for Gianni over the next several weeks.

Finally, on Jan. 17, 2014, Gianni's body was discovered in the trunk of his car in Riverside, Calif., about an hour-and-a-half north of San Diego County. He, too, had been fatally shot.

The case has remained opened and unsolved for nearly six months.

The families of the victims have tried diligently to increase the reward for information on this case in hopes of bringing forward fresh leads. The San Diego Crime Stoppers reward fund for this case increased to $10,000 earlier this year.

The San Diego Police Department said Chief Shelley Zimmerman plans to hold a news conference on these latest developments on Monday at 11:30 a.m. NBC 7 will stream that briefing live on our website.

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