Crime

Police Still Searching for New Year's Shooter Who Killed Two at Cabin

Devonte Phillips (left) and Hiyaw "Joya" Tesfa Zewdie-Walker died in a fatal shooting in the early morning hours of January 1.
Devonte Phillips (left) and Hiyaw "Joya" Tesfa Zewdie-Walker died in a fatal shooting in the early morning hours of January 1. Courtesy of Jordan Rodriguez and Victoria Witten
Three days after a shooting early on New Year's Day left two dead and two injured at Cabin Tap House in LoDo, the Denver Police Department is still searching for a suspect.

"A fight ensued, which escalated to the suspect firing shots, striking four victims," says Kurt Barnes, a DPD spokesperson. Two people died at the scene; the two shooting victims who were injured and hospitalized are expected to survive. The department is "continuing to work to develop suspect information," Barnes notes.

The shooting took place in the early-morning hours of January 1 at 1919 Blake Street, while club-goers were celebrating the New Year. Hours later, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses ordered an immediate suspension of Cabin's liquor license. As a result, the club must remain closed as it goes through an administrative process, including a possible hearing. Owner Valentes Corleons is already embroiled in city actions regarding Beta Event Center, his club next door to Cabin.

One of the people who died in the shooting was 24-year-old Devonte Phillips, who leaves behind a two-year-old daughter; her mother is Jhasmine Kirkwood.

Jordan Rodriguez, Kirkwood's sister, was hanging out with Phillips, Kirkwood and Phillips's brother, also named Jordan, the night of the shooting at Cabin.

"Somebody had bumped into Tay — Devonte. They bumped into him. They didn’t say nothing. And then walked back by him and bumped back into him again. It was a lot of young boy stupid shit," Rodriguez says, adding that Phillips and the person who bumped into him got into a verbal argument.

"They told him, 'All right, well, if you have a problem, let’s go downstairs,'" Rodriguez recalls.
click to enlarge A New Year's party at Cabin ended in tragedy. - GOOGLE MAPS
A New Year's party at Cabin ended in tragedy.
Google Maps
"I see them go downstairs, and then I see a group of guys go down behind them. Obviously, that’s my little sister and brother, and I go down and they’re jumping him. And my sister is just yelling, 'Stop, stop.' I had gotten in the middle, too, and I was yelling, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to hit a girl? Go hit me.' And when I got down, it was surreal. There was like something you see in a movie. It was a circle," Rodriguez says, with six or eight people surrounding her group.

At one point, somebody hit Phillips with an object, and his head started gushing blood. The fight then started to move up the stairs.

"As they’re going upstairs, me and Jhasmine are trying to hold Devonte downstairs," she says. "Actually, the shooter, he was on the stairs, and he leaned back on the stairs and kicked my brother in the face and then kicked a second time, and that’s when he hit me."

As the group got back upstairs about thirty seconds later, the man who had kicked Rodriguez and Phillips on the stairs started shooting, Rodriguez says. He hit Phillips; a 29-year-old woman named Hiyaw "Joya" Tesfa Zewdie-Walker; Phillips's brother; and another person.

The shooter ran out of the club after he shot the four people.

With Phillips bleeding out, Rodriguez began performing chest compressions.

"He was breathing when I was doing them," says Rodriguez. "I saw the girl who passed. Her friends were just four feet away from us. They were screaming and stuff."

Tesfa Zewdie-Walker, who appears to have been an innocent bystander, and Phillips both died on the floor of Cabin.

Rodriguez says that Phillips wasn't involved in any gang activity and didn't have a weapon that night. But security at the entrance of the club wasn't patting down patrons as they were coming in, she asserts.

"They didn’t search me, they didn’t search the male I was with. The party I was with, they said they searched one or two people out of a group of ten guys. And they said it was a super-quick, two-touch pat and they were in," Rodriguez recalls.

Corleons, whose legal name is Hussam Kayali, says that he's not sure how a gun got inside the club; he claims the staffers were doing pat-downs. "We don't know how he got in. We don't allow guns, knife, nothing," he insists.

But another patron who attended Cabin that night says that the club did not search him or his friends as they entered, either.
click to enlarge Devonte Phillips leaves behind his daughter by Jhasmine Kirkwood. - COURTESY OF JORDAN RODRIGUEZ
Devonte Phillips leaves behind his daughter by Jhasmine Kirkwood.
Courtesy of Jordan Rodriguez
Corleons says he won't reopen Cabin and plans to sell the club. He may do the same with Beta, which the City of Denver has been trying to shut down; a final ruling from Excise and Licenses on whether Beta can keep its liquor license is pending. After the shooting, Corleons voluntarily closed Beta; he says he will try to sell or even give back the venue to its former owners, Brad Roulier and Mike McCray.

Attorneys and cops for the City of Denver have argued in the licensing case against Beta that it has become a place where gang members go to hang out and get in fights. As part of the city's investigation into Beta over the course of 2021, an undercover female Denver police detective was able to enter Beta with a handgun in her waistband, despite having been searched by staff at the entrance.

Phillips, who attended Aurora Central High School, leaves behind a large group of family and friends, including his wife and daughter. The 24-year-old was "super handsome," funny and had an intoxicating smile, according to Rodriguez. And he loved football.

"He loved the Chiefs. Him and his dad were supposed to go to the game on the ninth," Rodriguez says. Her family, who "bleed orange and blue," would talk smack with Phillips and his family over the AFC West rivalry, she adds.

"He was a good, good person, and he loved his daughter and his wife and mom and his nephews," Rodriguez says.

Tesfa Zewdie-Walker leaves behind a nine-year-old daughter, a twelve-year-old son, a husband and a large family in Aurora, according to her sister, Victoria Witten. Originally from Ethiopia, Tesfa Zewdie-Walker came to the U.S. at the age of six.

"We met when I was eleven and she would’ve been like twelve. We didn’t honestly like each other at first, and then we became friends. Then we ended up bringing her in and adopting her into our family," says Witten.

"She was a great mom, always focused on making sure her kids could cope emotionally," continues Witten. "She’s very forward-thinking and progressive and just a bleeding heart. ... She always had a different look, a different hairstyle. She was a model at one point."

Witten believes this was the first time that her sister had gone to Cabin. A GoFundMe has been established for her family.
Tesfa Zewdie-Walker (right) leaves behind two children and a husband. - COURTESY OF VICTORIA WITTEN
Tesfa Zewdie-Walker (right) leaves behind two children and a husband.
Courtesy of Victoria Witten
"She had frequented Beta a couple times, but we stopped going whenever it started getting real rowdy over there, just with fights, and gangs, and we’d see people with guns all the time," Witten says, adding that she just recently learned that Beta and Cabin are owned by the same person.

Witten heard from someone who was with her sister on the night of the shooting that Tesfa Zewdie-Walker did get patted down as she walked in.

"Obviously, this guy didn’t get patted down," she says of the shooter. "People wound up dead because of it."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.