A suspect who said he had the skinny on a homicide case managed to shimmy through an air vent in the ceiling of an interview room last night and escape Police Headquarters.

Police were searching for Hector Gomez, 28, of Kensington, who they said slipped through the ductwork of the Homicide Unit and then is believed to have walked out a door of the Police Department's headquarters at Eighth and Race Streets.

"He probably acted like normal and just strolled out," said Lt. Frank Vanore, the department's spokesman.

Gomez, who is described as a 5-foot-8 Hispanic weighing 140 pounds, is the first person in memory to successfully escape from custody in the department's central headquarters, police say.

"We know of cases in the past where some have attempted to escape, but they were caught," said Vanore.

Police are uncertain if Gomez actually had any information about a homicide, or if it was merely a ruse to buy time to make his escape.

"We never determined what homicide he wanted to talk about," said Vanore.

Gomez, who has tattoos on his arms and fingers, has 15 prior arrests on charges including theft, drug possession and receiving stolen property. He now faces escape charges as well.

Gomez was arrested Sunday night near his home in the 3300 block of Kip Street in a car that police said had been reported stolen six days earlier.

After Gomez was unable to post 10 percent of the $10,000 bail that was set yesterday morning, he told East Division detectives that he had information about a murder.

Gomez was taken downtown to the Homicide Unit around 1:30 p.m. and placed in a locked interview room without handcuffs. If he had been a suspect in a homicide, Vanore said, he would have been manacled.

"He was not firmly secured," said Vanore. "If he had been a suspect, he would have been secured to a chair. He would have been bolted."

Around 5 p.m., detectives discovered that Gomez had stacked several chairs in the room and ripped out a vent in the ceiling, gouging out the opening in the drywall. He shimmied through the shaft and then apparently dropped out of the ceiling through a vent in a hallway.

Then the suspect apparently descended in an elevator from the second floor and walked out the door, said Vanore.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, attending a town-hall meeting with Mayor Nutter last night, initially said he had no information on the escape and only received the details after he was questioned by a reporter.

"I don't know why I wasn't immediately notified," he said.