Crime & Courts

More charges filed against suspect in San Fernando Valley shootings

Suspect in August series of San Fernando Valley shootings faces more charges

Gloria Tovar was waiting to pick up a friend for church when the shotgun blast rang out.

The 59-year-old grandmother was killed that Sunday morning in August, the first of three attacks within about an hour that rocked the San Fernando Valley. Detectives allege the gunman picked his victims at random, firing a shotgun out of his SUV.

"It's like what everyone fears," Tovar's daughter, Lucia Montano, said on Thursday. "She probably didn't even notice him."

The 34-year-old suspect, Alexander Hernandez, was charged Thursday with Tovar's killing and two others, the latest filings in a five-day shooting rampage that Hernandez is accused of committing. The attacks left a total of four people dead and several others injured.

Investigators with the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments described Hernandez as a serial killer and the sole suspect in the attacks. Detectives said the shootings followed a similar, unusual pattern: A lone man firing a shotgun from a gold or tan-colored SUV.

"He would fixate on people and he would start following them, and then he'd shoot them," sheriff's Lt. John Corina said. "Someone would catch his eye."

The charges filed Thursday also include the Aug. 24 deaths of Michael Planells, a 29-year-old man killed while looking for cans at the Sylmar Recreation Center, and Mariana Franco, a 23-year-old woman fatally shot while driving to morning Mass with her family.

Hernandez was also charged with the attempted murder of Franco's parents, brother and sister, as well as attempted murder in an Aug. 20 shooting of a woman driving in Atwater Village.

He was arrested hours after the three Aug. 24 shootings and charged later that month with capital murder, attempted murder and animal cruelty in connection with three earlier attacks.

Investigators have spent weeks building their case against Hernandez. Jane Robison, a spokeswoman with the district attorney's office, said detectives gathered additional evidence that allowed prosecutors to file the new charges. She declined to elaborate, but confirmed ballistics tests had been conducted.

Hernandez, a Sylmar resident, remains in custody without bail. His attorney did not return calls for comment.

In all, Hernandez has been charged with 22 counts. Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty.

The charges stem from a series of shootings that began with a shooting in Atwater Village on the morning of Aug. 20, when a 42-year-old woman was seriously injured as she got off the 5 Freeway. The next morning, Gildardo Morales, 48, was found shot to death in his truck at a Pacoima intersection, the engine still running.

On Aug. 22, a couple were driving in West Hollywood when they were followed by a tan or gold SUV. At one point, the SUV pulled alongside the couple's car and a gunman opened fire, authorities said. The couple were not hit, but their Toyota was damaged by three shotgun blasts, a sheriff's official said.

A day later, on Aug. 23, a gunman shot three dogs in Pacoima. The animals' owners told LAPD investigators that they recognized the shooter as a man whose tan SUV had broken down in front of their house the week before.

The final attacks came the next morning.

The case broke after detectives handling the dog shooting realized the type of vehicle the suspect was driving matched that sought in the other attacks.

On Thursday, Tovar's daughter praised the police work in the case, saying detectives "are doing a very good job." Montano said she was glad that Hernandez had been charged in her mother's death.

"It's the beginning of a long journey," she said.

kate.mather@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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