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Search for Lucian Munguia uncovers illegal underground bunker

<i>KAPP</i><br/>Lucian Munguia's father and other searchers discovered an illegal underground bunker on Yakima County property.
Lucian Munguia's father and other searchers discovered an illegal underground bunker on Yakima County property.

By Emily Goodell

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    YAKIMA, Washington (KAPP) — Family members of missing 5-year-old Lucian Munguia continue to search and follow up on any lead that comes their way, which is how his father and other searchers discovered an illegal underground bunker on Yakima County property.

“To get a tip that that my son is being held in an underground bunker and then to actually find one like that … Finding the existence of that bunker just kind of freaked us out,” Lucian’s father Juan Munguia said.

Lucian disappeared Sept. 10 during an outing with his family at Sarg Hubbard Park in Yakima. Munguia said he and others discovered the bunker about two weeks ago between Keys Road and the Yakima River.

Munguia said they had previously found the remnants of an old bunker that was cleaned up several years ago, but were not expecting to find one that was actually being used.

“We had scoured that area multiple times and then we just happened to take another off-path,” Munguia said. “We ended up just coming across it and we were just surprised just to find something like that.”

Munguia and his family took photos and videos, which they passed on to county code enforcement officers. He said he sent them to the Yakima Police Department as well.

The structure is about six feet deep and includes multiple rooms, a propane hookup and a heater. It’s obscured beneath heavy layers of dirt and layered tree branches.

Munguia said they found nooses, weapons, scuba suits with holes cut out of them in inappropriate area, masks and assorted debris. He said the whole thing felt creepy, but there was no sign of his little boy.

“We didn’t find anything that was Lucian’s,” Munguia said. “We didn’t find anything pointing towards him.”

KAPP-KVEW reached out to Yakima Police Department public information officer Yvette Inzunza, who said, “I did check in with detectives and they were aware that Lucian’s dad had reported a homeless bunker of sorts. They looked into it, Codes is handling, but it is not significant to Lucian’s case.”

However, county officials said it is a significant problem for them because there’s little they can do in these situations, other than issue an eviction notice and take care of whatever is left behind.

“Short term, there’s not not a whole lot we can do,” Yakima County water resources supervisor Nathan Paris said. “It’s kind of in a little bit of remote spot here along the river, so what we’re doing right now is we’re just trying to keep it secure.”

Paris said there is a long-term project going on in the area that could help with removing the structure in the long-term, but on its own, cleanup would be costly.

“We would guess anywhere, upwards of $3,000 to $4,000 easily — or more,” Paris said.

This is at least the third illegal underground bunker they’ve had to deal with in this area, all allegedly built by the same man, who’s been living unhoused in the area for years.

In 2018, the man was arrested after they discovered a large underground dwelling on Yakima Sportsman State Park. He pleaded guilty to second-degree malicious mischief and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

In court documents, the man reportedly told investigators that it only took him about a month to create the structure and had been living in it for a while.

According to court documents, the man also has multiple previous convictions for assault, lewd conduct, violating a protection order, trespassing and other offenses dating back to the 1980s.

Authorities said two years after the first bunker was discovered, in January 2020, a second one was found in the area near Keys Road and the Yakima River. Again, he was evicted from the premises and the bunker was closed up.

Now, with the discovery of the third bunker, Paris said there’s really nothing in place to stop him from doing it again.

“Unfortunately, there is not — aside from posting notice and hoping at some point they just try and find other resources and other shelter,” Paris said.

Building an underground shelter like this one violates a law regarding unauthorized use of county property, which carries a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. But it’s one the man alleged to have built these bunkers is unlikely to face.

“We can arrest the person, take him to jail; if the jail accepts him, great,” Yakima County sheriff’s spokesperson Casey Schilperoort said. “He’s going to be out within eight hours and he’s going to go back to the place he was living because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Schilperoort said that creates a circular problem with no end to it and no clear solution in sight. That leaves the county with a problem that won’t go away without some kind of change.

“I just want the public to know that these are in existence and there’s nothing that anyone can really do about it,” Munguia said.

In the meantime, Munguia and the rest of his family will continue to follow up on any new tips with the hope that one of them will pan out and help bring Lucian home.

The family is offering a $10,000 reward for Lucian’s safe return or for information directly resulting in his safe return. Anyone with information about Lucian’s whereabouts should contact the Yakima Police Department at 509-575-6200.

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