Two Gang Members Arrested in 2008 Homeless Camp Massacre

ShootingsKidnappingGang ActivityDon Morgan

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KTLA) -- Two alleged gang members have been arrested in connection with the murders of five people in a shooting rampage at a homeless camp in 2008.

David Cruz Ponce, 31, and Max Eliseo Rafael, 25, were each charged with five special circumstance murders in the case, said Deputy District Attorney Eric Harmon.

The criminal complaint lists the special circumstance allegations as murder in the commission of kidnapping and murder of witnesses to a crime.

Ponce and Rafael, purportedly of the Nuthood Watts gang, are accused of killing Vanessa Malaepule, 34; her boyfriend Lorenzo Perez Villacana, 44, who lived at the camp; Katherine Verdun, 24; Hamid "Sammy" Shraifat, 41; and Frederick Neumeier, 53.

Villacana apparently owed the men money for drugs. Police say Ponce and Rafael went looking for him on Nov. 1, 2008 with plans to kill him.

They roamed around the vacant land near the freeway interchange but could not find Villacana or the secluded encampment.

They eventually came across Shraifat in the vicinity, according to police.

Ponce and Rafael allegedly kidnapped him at gunpoint, and forced him to lead them to the camp.

They shot and killed Villacana, according to police, then gunned down the other victims because they saw the first murder.

Don Morgan, a friend of the victims, told KTLA in 2008 that he knew them all by their first names or nicknames -- Vanessa, LV, Cat, Sammy and Fred.

He said they liked to come to the site to party.

Relatives of Malaepule said she was the mother of six children and was not homeless, but liked to hang out at the spot.

She lived with her mother and children -- ages 8, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 16 -- at a home about two miles away, they said.

"She was a good person," said Malaepule's sister, Veronica Puaauli, 27. "Very funny. Everybody loved her."

Her uncle, Ilager McMoore, said police told him his niece was found beneath the body of her boyfriend, Villacana, as though he had tried to shield her from the gunfire.

At the time, McMoore said he suspected Villacana may have been involved in a gang dispute.

Ponce is additionally charged with the kidnapping and murder of Tony Bledsoe of Lancaster on March 23, 2009.

In that case, Ponce is charged with one count each of murder and kidnapping to commit another crime, with a special circumstance allegation that Bledsoe was killed while the defendant was engaged in the crime of kidnapping.

Ponce has three felony convictions from 2003 for second-degree robbery, first-degree residential burglary and possession of a controlled substance.

Officials said Thursday that they believe that Ponce is responsible for other killings, including two in Long Beach.

Ponce and Rafael also have been linked to a 2010 murder plot involving a rival gang member.

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