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Delbert Belton Murder Update: WWII vet, 88, fought back against teens who beat him to death, police say

Delbert Belton KREM

Updated 5:16 p.m. (CBS) SPOKANE, Wash. -- World War II veteran Delbert Belton may have fought back against the two teens suspected of beating him to death outside a Spokane, Wash. Ice-A-Rena, police said in a news conference Monday morning, reports CBS affiliate KREM.

Belton, who was shot in the leg during the Battle of Okinawa, was killed during an apparent robbery Wednesday outside the Eagles Ice-A-Rena. Authorities say two young men attacked Belton in his car outside the arena as he was waiting for a friend.

"Our information is that the individual fought back and that may have made this, you know, a worse situation," said Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub in a press conference Monday morning. "I'm not being critical of Mr. Belton, we certainly encourage individuals to fight back, and he should have. But it shouldn't have happened to begin with."

The victim's daughter-in-law said Belton was hit with "big heavy flashlights" and doctors told her he was bleeding from all parts of his face, reports the station.

After identifying two suspects, police arrested two 16-year-old males. One turned himself in to authorities Thursday, a second was arrested early Monday in a Spokane basement apartment. Both teens are charged with first-degree robbery and first-degree murder. They will be tried as adults, reports the Los Angeles Times, and are being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

Tips from the community and the second suspect's family helped police hone in on his location, he said.

"The two individuals we believe are responsible for the robbery and murder of Mr. Belton are in custody," Straub said, adding that police believe they have a "very strong case" against them.

Straub said three of the second suspect's friends, all juveniles, were arrested and charged with rendering criminal assistance to evade police apprehension, a Class B felony.

The motive for the murder was robbery, not race, Straub said Monday. The crime didn't appear to be gang-related, he said.

"It was a robbery that two young people, one of whom was at one point actively involved in basketball, committed on what they perceived to be a victim, and a ready victim," Straub said.

The teens stole cash from Belton, Straub said. The veteran's wallet was discovered in the area of the crime scene.

Belton was born and raised in Spokane. He survived being shot in the leg in 1945 at Okinawa, one of the fiercest battles of the war, and went on to spend 33 years working for Kaiser Aluminum before retiring in 1982.

Belton was called "Shorty" by his friends because he was little more than 5 feet tall, his niece Pam Hansen said.

She believes he was targeted because of his age and size.

More than 100 reportedly attended a candlelight vigil for Belton on Friday.

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