A man arrested in the death of a 19-year-old woman who was with her boyfriend at Penn Park in Whittier when she disappeared over the weekend was charged Wednesday with murder, kidnapping and attempted rape, according to a criminal complaint.
Gabriel Esparza, 20, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. Details about his next court appearance were not immediately available.
He was arrested in the killing of Andrea Vazquez, 19, who was last seen sitting with her boyfriend in a car shortly after midnight Sunday morning in the parking stalls area of Penn Park, according to the Whittier Police Department. Someone approached and opened fire, police said.
The boyfriend dropped to the ground for safety and when he returned to the car, he found blood but no sign of Vazquez, the family said. Vazquez was taken from the vehicle in what police described as a random act of violence.
There appears to be no connection between the accused shooter and victim, said Whittier Officer Thomas Mattsson.
“At this time, it appears that Andrea Vazquez and her male companion were randomly targeted by the suspect at Penn Park,” police said in a statement.
Esparza was arrested Monday at his job in Lakewood. He also faces an attempted murder charge for allegedly opening fire on the victim’s boyfriend.
Former LAPD detective Moses Castillo, who has been assisting the family, confirmed to NBCLA early Tuesday afternoon that police informed family members of Vazquez’s death. The victim’s body was found in a vegetation field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street in Moreno Valley.
“In my 30 years of experience with law enforcement, I’ve never seen a situation where the victim is shot and then kidnapped,” Castillo said. “Often, the victim is just shot and left there, and the suspects flee.”
“He fled,” Castillo said in an interview with NBC4. “I believe he was trying to get away and obviously, he’s trying to get rid of the evidence. That’ what he ultimately did. He dumped her somewhere in Moreno Valley, an open field.”
A 20-year-old Whittier man was arrested in the shooting death of a 19-year-old woman who disappeared from a park in Whittier over the weekend, authorities said Tuesday.
The victim’s heartbroken family spoke Tuesday about their devastating loss.
Ana Vazquez, the teen’s mother, recalled her daughter’s kindness, responsibility and dedication to her studies. She said the victim was a student at Fullerton College and wanted to be a designer. She said her family remains in a state of shock and confusion about the random act of violence.
“There is no sense. Nothing makes sense,” she told NBC4. “We don’t know this person. When I see the picture of this guy who killed her, I see him and why did he do that? Who is he? Why my daughter? There’s so many things in my head.”
Anyone who was at Penn Park between 11 p.m. Saturday and 1 a.m. Sunday, or anyone with any information on the case, was urged to call the police watch commander at 562-567-9255. Tipsters may also call Det. Jose Bolanos at 562-328-8504 or Det. Tom Nordbak at 562-244-0054, or call the crime tipline at 562-567-9299.
It was not immediately clear whether Esparza has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
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