County Parks Need More Money

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Parks in Los Angeles County need more money to pay for everything from better lighting and equipment to more police and recreational programs, according to a needs assessment report being finalized for county supervisors.

The findings, compiled from feedback received from residents during 178 public meetings across the county will be presented to supervisors May 3 to help them determine whether there is an urgent need to place a parks funding proposition on the November ballot.

“We’ve all benefited from little and big open spaces,” said Jane Beesley, district director of the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District at an Earth Day news briefing/environmental justice forum hosted by New America Media.

“We need our parks and now our parks need us,” Beesley said.

Over the last two decades, funding for county parks was supplemented through Proposition A — a county parks tax approved by voters in 1992 that expired last year. A supplemental levy approved in 1996 is scheduled to expire in June 2019.

Since 1992, the Regional Park and Open Space District – which administers Prop A revenue – has funded almost 1,500 park-related projects across the county. In addition to ongoing maintenance, the special parcel tax has helped pay for projects like a new Olympic-sized swimming pool at Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles and the restoration of the Griffith Park Observatory and Hollywood Bowl.

A similar ballot measure to pay for future maintenance and improvements was narrowly defeated in 2014. Critics at the time said the measure was too vague and lacked community input. Advocates for a new funding measure say those issues have been addressed, citing the hundreds of public parks meetings conducted countywide between December 2015 and February of this year to gather public input in preparation for a possible ballot measure asking voters to pay for park improvements.

El Sereno Arroyo Playground was transformed from a vacant lot to the ‘gem’ of the northeast community. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

El Sereno Arroyo Playground was transformed from a vacant lot to the ‘gem’ of the northeast community. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“We asked them to dream and they did,” said Rita Robinson, project director for the county’s Parks Needs Assessment, noting that more than 5,000 people took part in the workshops.

“How many times have you seen government ask what would you like?”

Meetings held in low-income Latino, African-American and Asian-American neighborhoods were packed, environmental groups pointed out during the forum.

While no specific details of the report have been released, Robinson said more than 1,700 specific projects were recommended. Activists said many of the proposals were generated in communities of color.

Robinson made it clear that the executive summary being presented to supervisors next week would show most county’s parks have high and very high needs.

Keshia Sexton, director of organizing for Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, said residents she spoke to during the outreach portion of the study had a long “wish list” that included dog parks, swimming pools, community centers, gardens, soccer fields and skate parks. Some residents even went as far as to ask for a new park, she said,

“What we heard across the board was there is a need,” Sexton said. “They also made it clear they hope this was not just another study but that there would be action.”

Pamela Marquez is one of those who has witnessed first hand that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” For decades, she and other residents of El Sereno demanded that a vacant lot on the outskirts of their predominately Latino eastside Los Angeles neighborhood be converted into a park – but one that fits the needs of the community.

“We were given the opportunity to design the park of our dreams and it has made a difference,” Marquez told EGP. The El Sereno Arroyo Playground is now the gem of the community, she said. Park amenities include walking paths, children’s playground, solar lights, security cameras and other features. The park has even increased property values, Marquez added.

She said having a park nearby “makes a difference” in one’s quality of life. “My husband lived near a park and joined sports, meanwhile we have friends who joined gangs” because there was no park to offer an alternative, she said, recalling her experience growing up in Boyle Heights.

For many residents and environmental activists, parks are a way to engage and build community. Several speakers emphasized the critical role parks play in a community’s health.

Belinda V. Faustinos grew up near Lincoln Park and said the park was the only place many parents could afford to take the entire family.

She emphasized fixing bathrooms and other amenities that make park-goers feel safe and comfortable.

“We need to make sure all parks have that no matter where they are built,” she said.

Andrew Yip with Bike SGV said high rates of obesity and diabetes are often found in underrepresented communities that often lack a park or open space.

People in these communities often just want the basics, like better lighting and paved streets, he said.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Rosalio Muñoz volunteers at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Montecito Heights and believes safety measures are needed at the park which includes acres of open space and hiking trails.

The bodies of two young women bludgeoned to death were found at the park a few months ago and according to Muñoz the park would benefit from more lighting and a dedicated park ranger and added staff.

He worries, however, that a Metro transportation bond on the same ballot might hurt the park proposal’s prospects.

According to county officials, however, 69 percent of voters polled said they would support passage of a park funding measure even with a transportation bond on the ballot

“It’s very crowded, but people are committed to parks,” said Beesley.

Suspects Plead Not Guilty to Murder of Women in Montecito Heights

April 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Two people accused in the killings of a young woman and a teenage girl in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Montecito Heights pleaded not guilty to a capital murder charge Tuesday.

Jose Antonio Echeverria, 19, and Dallas Stone Pineda, 17, remain jailed without bail. They’re due back in court June 1, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for them to stand trial.

They are accused in the October killings of Gabriela Calzada, 19, and Briana Gallegos, 17. The victims’ bodies were found by a woman walking her dog at 2:20 p.m. Oct. 28, and their deaths were quickly classified as homicides. Briana was reported missing about 9 p.m. Oct. 28, roughly seven hours after the bodies were found near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park.

The criminal complaint alleges that the victims were killed on or about Oct. 27.

Gabriela Calzada (left) and Bianca Gallegos were killed Oct. 2015.

Gabriela Calzada (left) and Bianca Gallegos were killed Oct. 2015.

The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder while the defendants were active participants in a criminal street gang, and that the murders were carried out to further the activities of a criminal street gang.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Echeverria. Pineda cannot be sent to death row due to his age, even though he is being prosecuted as an adult.

The criminal complaint alleges that Echeverria personally discharged a rifle in the commission of the crimes, killing Calzada.

Police had not previously divulged a cause of death of the victims, saying only that their bodies showed signs of blunt-force trauma. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said one of the victims had been shot, and both were beaten.

Echeverria is also charged with one count each of attempted murder and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, both allegedly committed Jan. 29.

Echeverria was also charged with one count of allegedly bringing contraband into the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center Jan. 30.
Police said the killings were the result of a long-running gang feud.

Gallegos was a Pico Rivera resident and student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassell Park. Friends said Calzada dreamed of being a wild land firefighter.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Calzada was a participant in — and later a leader of — the Summer Night Lights anti-crime and anti-gang program in
Glassell Park.

Updated 5;15 p.m.

Dos Presuntos Pandilleros Arrestados por Muerte de Jóvenes en Parque Debs

February 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dos presuntos pandilleros fueron acusados el jueves de asesinar a dos adolescentes cuyos cuerpos fueron encontrados en el Parque Regional Ernest E. Debs en Montecito Heights el pasado mes de octubre, anunció la Oficina del Fiscal de Distrito del Condado de Los Ángeles.

José Antonio Echeverría (nacido el 03/31/97), también conocido como Klepto, y Dallas Stone Pineda (nacido el 02/09/98), también conocido como Trippy, enfrentan dos cargos cada uno de asesinato con las alegaciones de circunstancia especiales de múltiples asesinatos y crímenes motivados por pandillas. Echeverría también se enfrenta a acusaciones de portar armas.

Lectura de cargos está programada para el 8 de marzo.

Dallas Pineda y Jose Echeverria junto a las dos chicas muertas Gabriella Calzada (izq.) y Brianna Gallegos (der.) Facebook

Dallas Pineda y Jose Echeverria junto a las dos jóvenes asesinadas, Gabriella Calzada (izq.) y Brianna Gallegos (der.) Facebook

Antonella Nistorescu, vicefiscal de distrito de la División Hardcore de Pandillas está a cargo del caso.

Echeverría y Pineda están acusados de matar a Brianna Gallegos, 17, y Gabriella Calzada, 19. Los dos cuerpos de las víctimas fueron encontrados el 28 de octubre cerca de una ruta de hiking en el parque Debs.

De acuerdo con la denuncia penal, Echeverría supuestamente utilizó un rifle para matar a Calzada.

Echeverría también está acusado de un intento de asesinato no relacionado el 29 de enero, así como un cargo de disparar contra un vehículo que estaba ocupado y llevar contrabando a una cárcel.

Los fiscales decidirán más adelante si pedirán la pena de muerte contra Echeverría. Pineda no es elegible para la pena de muerte porque es menor de 18 años, pero enfrenta a una posible pena máxima de cadena perpetua.

El caso está siendo investigado por el Departamento de Policía de Los Ángeles.

Alleged Bogus Priest Charged With Stealing From Parishioners

February 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A man who allegedly impersonated a Roman Catholic priest and swindled thousands of dollars from parishioners at two Los Angeles-area churches made his initial court appearance today on a 30-count criminal complaint.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia ordered Erwin Mena — who was charged Jan. 20 and arrested Tuesday in Elysian Park — to remain jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail pending arraignment, which was rescheduled to Feb. 24.

Mena, 59, is charged with 19 felony counts of grand theft, eight misdemeanor counts of petty theft and one felony count each of perjury, procuring and filing false documents and practicing medicine without a license.

Mena is accused of passing himself off as a priest dating back to October 2014 at a pair of Catholic churches in Los Angeles, where he performed Mass, confessions and a wedding.

He allegedly swindled parishioners at Saint Bernard Catholic Church in Glassell Park and Saint Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Highland Park by selling tickets for a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last summer. The arrangements were never made and the trip never took place, prosecutors said.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles contacted the Los Angeles Police Department June 4 to report that its parishioners had allegedly been defrauded by Mena, police said.

Alleged losses are estimated at $50,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to 21 years behind bars.

Shrinking Debs Pond Worries Park Visitors

January 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

What started as a routine maintenance check up at Ernest E. Debs Park in Montecito Heights turned into a worrying issue for area residents and frequent park visitors who noticed a large pond at the park was rapidly losing water, endangering the fish and turtles living there.

The pond is man-made and gets it water through pipes connected to it rather than natural sources.

Former Montecito Heights resident Rosalio Munoz told EGP he started seeing the evaporation back in December and brought it to the attention of local Councilman Gil Cedillo, after getting no response from park staff.

Munoz told EGP he estimated the pond’s water level had dropped about four feet, noting that in addition to being a habitat for aquatic life, the pond also serves as an important water source in the event of a fire.

“I was told by a workman on clean up duty that a pipe had broken and I became alarmed,” he wrote in his letter dated Dec. 4 to the councilman. “I thought a major job needed to be done and was worried about the fish and turtles there…”
A month passed and Munoz said he didn’t see any repair work going on.

Reyes Rosales watches his children as they play along the lakeside, which has lost a significant amount of water. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Reyes Rosales watches his children as they play along the lakeside, which has lost a significant amount of water. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Last Friday, however, Montecito Heights resident Helen Driscoll told EGP she saw “about three trucks dumping water” in the pond, but the water was still down, significantly shrinking the size of the pond.

Recent rains have only raised the water level about two-inches, according to Munoz.

Reyes Rosales was out hiking last Friday with his children and stopped by the pond to play. Even with the water delivered earlier the pond still seemed very low, said the East LA resident.

“The drop in water goes back more than a month,” he told EGP in Spanish. “I think it will become dangerous for the animals, they may die.”

Cedillo Chief of Staff Arturo Chavez told EGP the problem started with the rupture of a valve that provides water pressure to a fire hydrant at the park.

“City plumbers noticed it and they closed the fire hydrants to do repairs,” he told EGP. “They also notified the local fire department station” about the situation, he said.

Although, people love the man-made pond and are worried about the wildlife, Chavez said the pond is really a reservoir that works with the irrigation system to the park, which he speculated could have contributed to the pond’s lower water level.

Park visitors worried that the pond was drying up started calling the park and elected officials.

In an effort to respond to their concerns, maintenance staff turned on the pipe to fill the pond and it broke another valve, Chavez explained.

Recreation and Parks staff would not comment on whether fire hydrants at the park had been impacted, but said “it is a complicated issue” and they are working on it.

“The pipes that are feeding the lake are old and ruptured,” Abel Perez, senior park maintenance supervisor told EGP via email.

According to Cedillo spokesperson Fredy Ceja, city crews started cutting asphalt Tuesday in search of the broken pipe disrupting the water flow.

“They will continue to cut asphalt until they find the broken pipe and fix it immediately, which should fix the problem,” he said.

Chavez told EGP the delay in getting to work on the broken water pipes could have been due to the holiday and staff shortages. He confirmed that the fire department is aware of the issue and has made plans for an alternate source of water if there is a fire emergency, either bringing in a water tank or using other fire hydrants.

City staff hopes to have the problem fixed by Friday.


Twitter @jackierporter

Montecito Heights Homes Searched for Evidence In Debs Park Killings

November 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

There’s been a break in the murder of two young women whose bodies were found two weeks ago at a Montecito Heights park.

An unspecified number of individuals were detained today following the execution of three search warrants at homes on the 3400 block of Galena Street, according to authorities.

“We are looking for any evidence that may be related to the homicide that occurred in Debs Park and may help move the investigation forward,” LAPD Hollenbeck Capt. Martin Baeza told EGP. “We are going to be questioning some individuals because we believe they have some information involving this case.”

Police served search warrants in at least three locations in Montecito Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Police served search warrants in at least three locations in Montecito Heights. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The bodies of Gabriela Calzada, 19, and Briana Gallegos, 17, were found Oct. 28 at about 2:20pm 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.

Friends and family in social media identified Gallegos as a resident of Pico Rivera and student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassell Park.

Their deaths have been classified as homicides.

“Nobody has been arrested and I don’t have ages [of detainees] right now,” Baeza told EGP, responding to speculation by some media reports that one of the males detained appeared to be 17 or 18 years old.

Two people were taken to Hollenbeck Station in Boyle Heights for questioning and more people are expected to be questioned throughout the day, Baeza added.

Evidence being sought in the search warrants could include “DNA swabbing,” Lt. Sam Arase told KTLA-Channel 5.

John Baez lives two blocks from the residences searched and told media reporters that neighbors in the area are very worried because the killings happened very close to home. The area is known for gangs and they are afraid to speak, he said.

“I had seen the young girls before, hanging out around the neighborhood with a group of guys,” he said. “But I didn’t know who they were.”

Authorities said the victims were fully dressed when found at the park and there was evidence of blunt-force trauma, but would not confirm if that was the cause of death.

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 last week during a community meeting hosted by the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council. The captain said it would have been unusual for them to have been dumped out of a vehicle, but nothing is being ruled out.

Hollenbeck Lt. Sam Arase told EGP no one was arrested, only detained and questioned.

“They are just residents, we are talking to them see if they have any additional information that can help us in our investigation,” he said. “I don’t want to get too much in detail but our forensic staff are here collecting evidence at this point.”

Arase would not confirm speculation on social media that the murders could be gang-related.

Twitter @jackiereporter

Transient Found Dead Near Hermon Dog Park

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A white, approximately 62-year-old male was found dead Wednesday night near Hermon Dog Park in Northeast Los Angeles, authorities said.

The man, a known transient in the area who went by the nickname “Mr. White,” was found dead around 8pm by a caretaker, said Officer Austin Fernald with the Los Angeles Police Department Hollenbeck Division. The caretaker called police, who responded to the 6500 block of Monterey Road in Hermon.

Apparently he died of natural causes, but the investigation is ongoing, Fernald told EGP.

The incident does not appear to be connected to the killing of two women whose bodies were found at Debs Park on Oct. 28, said Fernald.

La Muerte de Dos Mujeres Incrementa Miedo y Rumores

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

El portavoz del forense dijo el miércoles que no podía comentar sobre un informe que una de dos mujeres jóvenes encontradas muertas en un parque de Montecito Heights había recibido un disparo en la cabeza.

Ed Winter, asistente del forense dijo solamente que había preocupaciones sobre la seguridad puesta en los dos casos, y se negó a dar detalles.

Read this article in English: Girls Killings Fuel Fear, and Rumors

NBC4 citó la oficina del forense como la fuente de información de que Gabriela Calzada de 19 años de edad había recibido un disparo.

Los amigos y la familia han identificado la segunda víctima en los medios sociales como Briana Gallegos de 17 años de edad, residente de Pico Rivera y estudiante de Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies en Glassell Park. Los cuerpos fueron encontrados alrededor de las 2:20pm el 28 de octubre por una mujer que paseaba a su perro en un camino cerca de las avenidas Mercury y Boundary en la sección Rose Hills del Parque Regional Ernest E. Debs.

Sus muertes han sido clasificadas como homicidios.

La noche del martes, decenas de residentes preocupados asistieron a una reunión en Ramona Hall, donde la policía de Los Ángeles les informó dónde se encuentran en la investigación.

“Estamos hablando con la gente, sobre las preocupaciones y rumores”, Martín Baeza, capitán de la División Hollenbeck de LAPD le dijo a la multitud.

Según la policía, las víctimas estaban completamente vestidas y había evidencia de lesiones por contusión, pero no confirmó si esa fue la causa de la muerte.

Baeza confirmó que las autopsias se habían realizado, pero no dio detalles sobre los resultados, se limitó a decir que la “investigación oficial está siendo manejada por mis detectives”.

Gabriela Calzada, 19, fue encontrada muerta en el parque Ernest E, Debs en Oct. 28. (Facebook)

Gabriela Calzada, 19, fue encontrada muerta en el parque Ernest E, Debs en Oct. 28. (Facebook)

Baeza no quiso especular sobre si los asesinatos ocurrieron en el parque o en otro lugar. “Los cuerpos estaban alrededor de 300 a 400 yardas de la calle en el camino”, dijo, y añadió que habría sido inusual que las hayan aventado de un vehículo, pero dijo que nada está siendo descartado.

Algunas personas que viven cerca del parque han reportado ver a un hombre sospechoso rondar. Existen rumores que los homicidios pudieron estar relacionados a los homicidios no resueltos de dos mujeres en Lincoln Heights hace unos años, o a tres ataques separados a mujeres que caminaban solas en el parque el año pasado.

La residente de Montecito Heights Andrea Mageed le dijo a EGP que ella solía ir a caminar en el parque, pero últimamente tiene miedo ir después de ver algunas veces “a un hombre sospechoso” con una mochila  viendo a mujeres.

“Uno ya no puede venir aquí sola”, dijo.

Silvia (cuyo apellido no se proporcionó) y su marido le dijeron a EGP que caminan por el parque todos los días alrededor de las 4pm.

Ella dijo que el mismo día que se encontraron los cuerpos, pero en la mañana, ella escuchó gritos de una mujer, y aunque algunos de sus vecinos dicen que podrían ser las mujeres asesinadas, la pareja cree que era una vecina que sufre violencia doméstica.

“Asumo que las trajeron ya muertas”, especuló el esposo de Silvia.

“Nunca habíamos visto nada como esto antes”, dijo el residente de Rose Hill Courts.

La noche del martes, Baeza le dijo a la audiencia que esta tragedia ha conmocionado a toda una comunidad y que están siguiendo cualquier pistas, rumores y no se descarta ninguna posible causa de muerte.

“La gente nos está dando una gran cantidad de información, y lo que hacemos es dividirlo por prioridad”, en un libro de evidencias, dijo. “Esto es algo que quiero ver llegar a su final”.

La funcionaria de campo del área noreste con el concejal del Primer Distrito Gil Cedillo, Sylvia Robledo le dijo a la audiencia, que la oficina de Cedillo ha estado trabajando muy de cerca con los oficiales de policía de Los Ángeles y ha recibido muchas llamadas telefónicas, algunos de ellos con información y algunos con los rumores y se lo están haciendo saber a las autoridades.

Un altar yace en el lugar donde fueron encontrados los cuerpos. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

Un altar yace en el lugar donde fueron encontrados los cuerpos. (EGP foto por Jacqueline García)

La miembro de la Junta Vecinal de Lincoln Heights Nancy Rosas dijo a los panelistas que está preocupada por las chicas jóvenes que caminan en la calle y tiene miedo que este podría ser un asesino en serie. “Necesitamos más oficiales de patrulla por nuestra seguridad”, dijo.

“En este momento no sabemos si se trata de un asesino en serie y no tenemos ninguna información para apoyar esta afirmación”, respondió Baeza.

Después explicó a la audiencia que en abril del 2014 fue encontrada una mujer muerta a lo largo del río en Arroyo Seco, pero fue un homicidio resuelto y se encontró al sospechoso quien actualmente esta en la cárcel.

Otro caso fue el de julio de 2014, cuando un hombre expuso sus partes a una mujer. “Hemos puesto una alerta en ese momento y tenemos un boceto del hombre”, dijo Baeza.

El sospechoso, sin embargo, no ha sido capturado todavía.

La residente del Este de Los Ángeles Carla Legaspi le dijo a EGP que ella se siente insegura, no sólo por el caso del parque, pero por que la situación se está convirtiendo en una “epidemia” de violencia contra las mujeres “y todavía no hay resultados positivos”.

Se refirió al caso del 29 de septiembre en Boyle Heights, donde un hombre trató de asaltar sexualmente a una mujer cerca de la estación de metro en las calles Primera y Pecan. El sospechoso sigue en libertad.

“[LAPD] tiene que enviar correos electrónicos masivos, publicar la foto de los sospechosos en todas partes”, dijo.

Baeza dijo que el parque cuenta con patrullas adicionales todo el día incluyendo oficiales en bicicleta hasta las 8pm.

Hoy a las 5pm habrá una vigilia y procesión en honor a las dos mujeres organizada por Eastside Mujeres, una red de organizaciones que prestan apoyo a mujeres, en el lugar donde fueron encontradas las dos mujeres. Exigirán la justicia y paz en la comunidad “para detener los feminicidios y homicidios de mujeres”, Carla Osorio del  Centro de Mujeres de ELA y parte de la red le dijo a EGP.

Osorio dijo que están proporcionando consejos de seguridad a las mujeres, tales como “no caminar sola y tomar algunas clases de defensa personal”.

Otra “Marcha por la Paz” se llevará a cabo en Lincoln Heights el sábado a las 10am en las esquinas de Griffin y North Broadway.

Así mismo se están llevando a cabo esfuerzos para ayudar a cubrir los costos del funeral.

Un lavado de autos se llevará a cabo el sábado de 9:30am a 4:30pm para colectar donaciones para el funeral de Bianca Gallegos en 5337 Monte Vista Street Los Ángeles 90042.

Ambas mujeres tienen una página para recaudar más fondos.

Cualquier persona con información sobre el caso puede llamar a los detectives de la división Hollenbeck al (323) 342-8900 o el Oficial Principal Superior de Montecito Heights Austin Fernald al (213) 924-5538.


Twitter @jackiereporter

Girls’ Killings Fuel Fear and Rumors

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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 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

UPDATE: Two Women Found Dead in Debs Park

October 29, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

A 17-year old girl found dead in a park in Montecito Heights was identified Friday by friends as family as Briana Gallegos of Pico Rivera.

The coroner’s office previously identified a second victim as 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada.

The women’s deaths have been classified as homicides, Officer Aareon Jefferson of the Los Angeles Police Departments Media Relations Section said.

The bodies were found about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, according to the LAPD.


Ernest E. Debs Regional Park is a popular location for hikers and runners. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Motecito Heights is home to several miles of hiking and cycling trails. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A woman walking her dog came upon the bodies, which were on the side of a hill, and called police, LAPD Officer Matthew Ludwig said Wednesday.

According to police, the women were found fully clothed about 300 yards from the street, and did not appear to have been sexually assaulted. He declined to comment on whether police found obvious signs of trauma on the bodies.

The coroner’s office has not officially identified Gallegos as one of the victims but friends have identified the teen and written on her Facebook page. According to the page, Gallegos was a student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassel Park.

One of the young women was reported missing at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, nearly seven hours after their bodies were found.

The park is popular with hikers and walkers. It’s also home to a National Audubon Center.

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Flowers were placed at the site where the bodies of two woman were found at Debs Park. (EGP Photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“I’m really scared knowing a killer may be out there,” said Helen, who asked not to use her last name.

“I never walk in the park alone anymore, not since those women were attacked last year, ” she told EGP.

She was referring to the assault on three women between January and July 2014.  At the time, police said the suspect was targeting women walking alone in the park. Signs with a composite drawing of the suspect warning women to to not walk alone and to keep an eye out for the suspect were posted around the park.

Autopsies to determine the victims’ causes of death were pending, according to the coroner’s office.

Article includes information from City News Service.

Update: 6:39 p.m.

Updated Oct. 30 2:45 p.m.

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