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How A Palm Print And The Killer’s Son Led Police To A 16-Year-Old Girl's Murderer
Who murdered 16-year-old Amanda Puckett, and why? The killer’s son helped lead police to the answer.
In Marietta, Georgia, 16-year Amanda Puckett had her whole life ahead of her. Tragically, the kind and easygoing high school student’s life was cut short in late June 1994, when she was gunned down in her family's jewelry store.
The shooting occurred in broad daylight, and witnesses saw a man running from the shop and fleeing in a white Isuzu Rodeo, investigators told “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Detectives spoke with the shop owner next door, Kyong Cha Brooks, who’d been the one to call 911. She said she also tried unsuccessfully to contact Amanda’s mother, Anh Puckett, a Vietnamese immigrant who owned the store and worked as a court interpreter. Amanda and her older brother, Mark, minded the store when their mom couldn’t be there.
Brooks told police that she’d heard a loud pop from the jewelry store, according to case documents. When she went to check on Amanda, she saw an Asian man in his 30s holding a gun and waving to her to come in. Instead, she turned and called for help.
In the hospital, Amanda was on life support. Her father, Mitch, and mother, who’d divorced a few years earlier, made the painful decision to turn off the machines on June 30. “I was holding her hand when she died,” her father told producers.
The case shifted from an assault to a homicide. Was the shooting a botched burglary or something else?
Detectives scoured the crime scene and lifted a palm print off of a display case where Brooks had seen the gunman standing. It was solid evidence — but in the mid-1990s there wasn’t a database to use to find a match.
Investigators focused on the other piece of evidence they had: the perpetrator’s white Isuzu. A grocery store employee told investigators that he’d seen the car in the shopping complex parking lot two hours before the shooting. Another witness reported seeing a man in the car using binoculars and looking in the direction of the Pucketts' jewelry shop.
An intense search for the vehicle was undertaken as detectives looked for a motive in the murder.
“Unlike a lot of murder cases, there really wasn't any reason to suspect anybody in the family,” said Eddie Herman, retired homicide detective sergeant with the Cobb County PD.
The police team learned that Anh Puckett was working as an interpreter in the Atlanta federal court on a racketeering case involving a Vietnamese gang leader. Anh told Herman that she believed that her daughter’s murder could have been “a hired hit” motivated by retaliation or revenge.
Local law enforcement and the FBI joined forces to follow this line of investigation. They pressed their network of informants looking for links between the gangs, particularly an underworld gang leader who’d bragged about killing a girl, and Amanda’s murder. Although this lead initially appeared promising, it eventually dried up.
After nearly a year, the white car still hadn’t been found and no new leads were emerging. But in May 1995, police caught a break: A detective with the Smyrna PD had a daughter who said her friend had confided that she knew about the murder.
The witness, Beth, who’d attended the same high school as Amanda, said she’d dated a boy, Gabriel Quijano, who claimed his father had committed the murder.
They learned that man, Eugenio Quijano, had no steady job. His lack of employment and means may have been a motive to rob the jewelry store. They also discovered that Eugenio not only owned a white Isuzu Rodeo but lived less than three miles from the crime scene.
“We learned that Quijano, his son, and his father fled the area,” said Tom Charron, retired district attorney for Cobb County, Georgia. “The entire Quijano family relocated to Seattle, Washington.”
Authorities also found out that the Quijano family returned to Georgia six months after the murder because Beth was pregnant with Gabriel’s baby. The family was all living together in Smyrna.
On May 11, 1995, after almost a year of investigation, police arrested Eugenio Quijano for the murder of Amanda Puckett. He refused to speak to the police.
On the day that he was arrested, several of his family members were asked to come to police headquarters to give a statement as well. Eugenio’s father “stonewalled” investigators, they said. He denied knowing anything about anything. But his son came clean. Gabriel told police that his grandfather enlisted him to get rid of a gun.
“It was a revolver, and he dismantled it,” explained Herman, adding that Gabriel said he tossed the parts in a wooded area.
Efforts to retrieve parts of the discarded fireman were unsuccessful, but detectives were able to match Eugenio's palm print to one at the crime scene. Herman believed Eugenio rushed into the store to grab some jewelry and cash, then “got spooked” and shot Amanda.
In October 1996, two years after Amanda Puckett’s murder, Eugenio Quijano went on trial for malice murder and aggravated assault. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Amanda’s family continues to grieve. As the date of her murder approaches each year, “my dad gets quiet,” said Mark Puckett. “My mother gets tears in her eyes. It still feels just as painful.”