Missoula police are investigating the homicide of a 46-year-old transient man whose body was found Monday night in a downtown alley, and have determined he was killed in an apparent assault.
The victim, whose name investigators are not releasing, was not breathing when police officers and medical personnel responded at 7:10 p.m. to the alley behind a business at 130 W. Broadway. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
Although there were no visible signs of trauma and police initially said the death did not appear to be the result of foul play, an autopsy later showed that the man died of injuries from an assault.
"It occurred Monday evening, but it wasn't officially ruled a homicide until [Tuesday] afternoon when the coroner and crime lab completed the autopsy," said Missoula Police Sgt. Bob Bouchee.
Missoula County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Ruguleiski, who served as coroner in the case, said he could not disclose the victim's identity or the cause and manner of the man's death. However, he said the autopsy showed the injuries were clearly the result of an altercation.
"For sure it's a homicide, I can tell you that much," Ruguleiski said.
Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welsh said the man's injuries were not obvious to first responders, and it wasn't until investigators received a report from the state medical examiner that they determined it was a homicide.
"It appears he was the victim of some type of assault, but there was no obvious trauma," Welsh said. "It seems like it was some type of closed injury, but I don't know what exactly caused him to die."
The investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made at this point. However, Welsh said detectives have identified several people as possible suspects, and are trying to identify their whereabouts.
"We have the names of a couple of people, and one of them is actually a nickname or a moniker of some type so we are in the process of trying to identify that person," Welsh said. "We're also following up on information from the transient population."
Eran Fowler, director of operations at the Poverello Center, said investigators have spoken with staff and clients at the downtown shelter, but did not identify the victim.
Fowler said she has a good idea as to the victim's identity, but declined to confirm his name with the Missoulian. She described the likely victim as a member of Missoula's chronically homeless population who rarely accessed the Pov's services.
"He was really living on the fringe of society and was very much someone we would identify as chronically homeless, service resistant, and living very much in the street culture," she said.
Fowler added that the man had significant substance abuse issues, and while he rarely accessed the Poverello Center he had long-standing relationships with staff members and street outreach workers.
If anyone has information or witnessed the incident, they should contact Detective Mark Blood at (406) 552-6281. Callers can also report information to Crimestoppers at (406) 721-4444.