Husband was in county jail two days before killings

A married couple found shot to death Friday night in an Atwater apartment have been identified by the Merced County Coroner's Office as 47-year-old Pedro Serna and 43-year-old Delores Serna of Merced.

Meanwhile, new details emerged in the deaths Monday, and jailhouse booking records show the husband had been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence two days before the killings. And a woman who called 911 said she heard bloodcurdling screams before shots rang out in the night.

Atwater police haven't reached a definitive motive behind the killings, although they're leaning toward classifying the case as murder-suicide. "Until we feel 100 percent confident that's what the case is, we're still handling this as a homicide investigation," said Atwater Police Detective Armando Echevarria. "Our office is not willing to be quick to label it as (murder-suicide) until the investigation is complete."

Police responded Friday to the Castleview Apartments in the 1600 block of Bellevue Road after receiving a 10:45 p.m. call about a domestic disturbance. As officers were on their way to the scene, Echevarria said police learned gunshots had been fired in the apartment.

Echevarria said police arrived at the scene within 40 seconds of receiving the call. A perimeter check of the complex was done as a precaution, to make sure an armed suspect wasn't walking the grounds.

Officers arrived at the apartment and found the bodies of the couple inside. Echevarria said the Bellevue Road apartment where the killings happened belonged to a relative of the couple, who lives in Merced.

According to Pedro Serna's booking sheet, his address is listed as an apartment in the 1000 block of West Yosemite Avenue in Merced.

Two days before the killings, Merced police arrested Pedro Serna at the West Yosemite Avenue apartment in Merced around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. He was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of felony rape of a spouse by force, making terrorist threats, false imprisonment and misdemeanor spousal abuse.

Merced Police Lt. Andre Matthews said he couldn't elaborate on the details of Serna's arrest because of confidentiality issues about the victim.

Pedro Serna remained at the jail until 8:58 p.m. on Friday, after someone posted his $165,000 bail. Less than two hours later, Pedro Serna and his wife were found dead at the Bellevue Road apartment.

The woman who called 911 Friday evening spoke with the Sun-Star on Monday, although she asked to remain anonymous because she's still shaken by the deaths. The woman said she heard a female's blood-curdling scream and gunshots. "It was a horrifying scream," she said.

The woman said she also heard a female say something along the lines of, "We can work this out," before hearing gunshots.

Echevarria said Delores Serna was a grandmother to several children.

Atwater police are asking anyone with information about the deaths to call Detective Adolfo Lomeli at (209) 357-6387 or the department's automated tip line at (209) 357-6390. Calls are kept confidential, and you can remain anonymous.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.