Girls’ Killings Fuel Fear and Rumors

Police attend meeting to calm concerns, but don’t say much.

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

A coroner’s spokesman said Wednesday he could not comment on a report that one of two young women found dead in a Montecito Heights park had been shot in the head.

Coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said only that there were concerns about security holds that had been placed on the two cases, and he declined to elaborate.

Lea este artículo en Español: La Muerte de Dos Mujeres Incrementa Miedo y Rumores

NBC4 cited the coroner’s office as the source of information that 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada had been shot.

Friends and family in social media posts have identified the second victim as seventeen-year-old Briana Gallegos, a resident of Pico Rivera and student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassell Park. The bodies were found about 2:20 p.m. Oct. 28 by a woman walking her dog on a trail near Mercury and Boundary avenues in the Rose Hills section of Ernest E. Debs Regional Park.

Briana Gallegos, 17, was found dead at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park Oct. 28. (Facebook)

Family and friends identified Briana Gallegos, 17, found dead at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park Oct. 28. (Facebook)

Their deaths have been classified as homicides.

On Tuesday night, dozens of scared residents attended a meeting at Ramona Hall where Los Angeles police addressed where they are in the investigation.

“We are talking to people, addressing concerns and rumors going on,” LAPD Hollenbeck Division Capt. Martin Baeza told the crowd.

According to police, the victims were fully dressed when found and there was evidence of blunt-force trauma, but would not confirm if that was the cause of death.

Baeza confirmed that autopsies had been performed but would not elaborate on the results, saying only that the “official investigation is being handled by my detectives.”

Baeza wouldn’t speculate on whether the murders happened in the park or elsewhere. “The bodies were about 300 to 400 yards off the street on the trail,” he said, adding it would have been unusual for them to have been dumped out of a vehicle, but added nothing is being ruled out.

Several people living near the park have reported seeing a suspicious man hanging around the park. Rumors that the killings could be related to the unsolved killings of two women in Lincoln Heights a few years ago, or three separate attacks on women walking alone in the park last year has many residents on edge.

Montecito Heights resident Andrea Mageed told EGP she used to hike in the park, but has become afraid to go there by herself after seeing “a suspicious man” wearing a backpack several times staring at the women in the park.

“You can’t come here anymore by yourself,” she said.

Rose Hill resident Silvia and her husband, who did not want to give his name, live very close to the park and said they heard a woman screaming on the morning of the day the bodies were found. Neighbors said it might have been one of the victims, but the couple says it could have been a neighbor victim of domestic abuse.

“I’m assuming they brought them dead already,” speculated Silvia’s husband.

Gabriela Calzada, 19, was found dead at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park Oct. 28. (Facebook)

Gabriela Calzada, 19, was found dead at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park Oct. 28. (Facebook)

“We have never seen anything like this before,” Silvia said.

This tragedy has shocked the entire community, Baeza said Tuesday. He said police are following every lead and rumor, and are not ruling any possible motive.

“People are giving us a lot of information, and what we do is prioritize it” in a clue book, he said, adding he’s determined to see the case solved.

Councilman Gil Cedillo’s field deputy in the area, Sylvia Robledo, told the crowd at Ramona Hall that her boss is working closely with the LAPD on the case. She said councilman’s office has received calls from people wanting to provide information, some of it rumors, and they are forwarding the information to police.

Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council member Nancy Rosas is worried there might be a serial killer on the loose. She said Tuesday she is very concerned for the safety of young girls who might be out walking and called on police to step up patrols in the area. “We need more patrol officers for our safety,” she emphasized.

“At this time we don’t know if this is a serial killer and don’t have any information to support that statement,” responded Baeza. Rumors that the killings could be tied to the April 2014 killing of a woman found in the Arroyo Seco are untrue. That killing has been solved and the suspect is in jail, the captain said.

Baeza was not as definite about speculation that the girl’s deaths might be the work of a man still wanted in connection with the assault of three women in the park between January and July 2014. At the time, police said the suspect was targeting women walking alone. Police released a composite drawing of the suspect, and warned women to not walk in the park alone.

 Flowers were placed along a trail at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park where the bodies of two teenage girls were found last week. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Flowers were placed along a trail at Ernest E, Debs Regional Park where the bodies of two teenage girls were found last week. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

East Los Angeles resident Carla Legaspi told EGP she feels unsafe these days because violence against women is becoming an “epidemic,” and no arrest has been made in the Sept. 29 attempted sexual assault of a woman in Boyle Heights, near the Metro station at First and Pecan streets.

“[LAPD] needs to send mass emails, publish the photo of the suspects everywhere,” she said.

According to Baeza, extra patrols, including bicycle units have been added at the park.

A vigil for the for the two teenagers will be held today at 5 p.m., organized by Eastside Mujeres—a network of organizations providing support to women. The group will demand justice and peace in the community  and “to stop the femicides and killings of women,” Carla Osorio, a member of East LA Women Center and part of the network told EGP.

She said the group will provide safety tips, such as never walking alone and taking self-defense classes.

Another “March for Peace” will take place Saturday in Lincoln Heights at 10am at the corner of Griffin and North Broadway.

Efforts are underway to help the girls’ families raise money to cover funeral costs.

A fundraiser carwash will be held Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 5337 Monte Vista Street, Los Angeles 90042, to collect donations for Briana Gallegos.

A gofundme.com page has been set up for each of the girls.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Hollenbeck division detectives at (323) 342-8900 or the Senior Lead Officer for Montecito Heights, Austin Fernald at (213) 924-5538. Information from City news Service used in this report.

 —-Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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November 5, 2015  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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