For more than two months, family members, volunteers and more than 22 law enforcement agencies have scoured Southern California to answer one question: Where is 5-year-old Aramazd?
Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives brought scent dogs and drones to comb a South Pasadena park near where the boy’s father lived. Divers searched a lake in Santa Barbara County. And a $30,000 reward was offered for information that could help find the boy.
Meanwhile, surveillance teams monitored the only named person of interest in the disappearance: the child’s father, Aramazd Andressian Sr.
Recently, investigators noticed some troubling developments. Andressian, sheriff’s investigators said, had lightened the color of his hair. He had shaved off his beard. And he had begun making plans to head to a country where he could avoid extradition back to the United States.
Last week, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed a murder charge, and detectives scooped him up in Las Vegas, where he had stayed on and off since his son’s disappearance.
Detectives believe Andressian, 35, killed his son because of tumultuous divorce proceedings with his estranged wife, sheriff’s Lt. Joe Mendoza said.
“Investigators believe this was a pre-planned event,” he said.
Pursuing a murder case without having found the victim’s body poses a unique challenge for prosecutors, but Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said her office has handled several cases with success. Four years ago, for example, a Los Angeles County jury convicted Lyle Stanford Herring for the second-degree murder of his wife, who went missing four years earlier.
Lacey said she was confident there was strong evidence that Andressian “committed this horrible crime.”
“This one is especially terrible,” she said.
Sheriff’s homicide Det. Louie Aguilera said he and his partner had stayed in constant contact with Aramazd’s mother throughout the investigation. The detective read aloud a statement that she provided about her son, whose nickname was Piqui.
“My heart is shattered, and I will miss my son immensely each and every second of every day for the rest of my life,” Ana Estevez’s statement said. “Piqui was everything great in my life, and I cannot imagine the emptiness and void that I will bear until we are together again someday.”
South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller said the child’s disappearance has had a profound impact on his community.
“Myself as a parent and as someone who is supposed to be the protector of our city, my heart is broken,” he said.
Neighbors in the tight-knit area of Baldwin Park where the boy and his mother lived with his grandparents were shocked to hear of the charges. On Monday, missing person fliers with photographs of the boy were still stapled to a utility pole and taped to his maternal grandparents' home, where a neighbor said they've lived for more than two decades.
“It's really struck the community,” said Luis Martinez, 31. “I feel heartbroken for them.”
Martinez said that the family would get together at the home on holidays and weekends, and when Aramazd was born, his grandparents were thrilled to welcome a little boy into the family.
Despite Andressian's arrest, Martinez said he's not convinced that the boy was killed.
"There's still no body," he said. "Someone's being held accountable...but at the end of the day you still have somebody else who's still missing."
Longtime neighbor Rachel Garcia, 65, said when she first heard of the boy’s disappearance on television news, she never imagined that the child was from her neighborhood. Each day, she said, she has hoped for good news.
“We’re still praying that he’s alive,” said Garcia, whose daughter went to high school with the child’s mother in Baldwin Park.
The mother told investigators she had handed off Aramazd to his father about 8 a.m. April 15 in Baldwin Park, authorities said.
Aramazd was last seen April 21 about 1 a.m. as he was leaving Disneyland with his father, aunt and grandmother. Andressian told investigators he took his son the next day to the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area in Santa Barbara County.
Mendoza said investigators believe the child was killed in the hours after leaving Disneyland and before his father went to the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Investigators said there’s evidence that Andressian was at the lake April 21, but there were no sightings of the boy.
On April 22 — the day the child was to be returned to his mother — the father was found unconscious in a South Pasadena park, his 2004 gray BMW doused in gasoline. The man had taken prescription pills, in an effort, authorities believe, to kill himself.
Andressian was initially detained but released due to lack of evidence.
Andressian told investigators he didn’t know what had happened to his son. Sheriff’s officials said he gave “inconsistent” and “misleading” statements, hired an attorney and refused to cooperate with investigators.
Afterward, Andressian went to Las Vegas, where he spent 47 days on and off “socializing,” sheriff’s officials said.
“His mannerisms were not consistent with a grieving parent,” Mendoza said.
Investigators said the case against Andressian relies on circumstantial evidence, but they have yet to release any details. They did not say what led them to believe he was making plans to leave the country or where he was headed.
Andressian was taken into custody about 1 p.m. Friday in Las Vegas by sheriff’s homicide detectives. He is being held on $10-million bail and is expected to be returned to Los Angeles County after extradition proceedings. His attorney, Daniel A. Nardoni, had no comment Monday.
In Montebello, resident Juliet Lizarraga said she often saw Andressian drop the boy off at his paternal grandmother's house, sometimes up to twice a week. Chills ran through Lizarraga’s body when she heard the news of the arrest, which she said was surprising because the boy and his father seemed to have a playful and loving relationship.
From the outside, she said, “he looked like a lovable dad, to me. I don't know what happened indoors.”
She said she hadn't seen the boy since February or March.
“I always pictured him as a very active boy. That's how I knew him,” she said. “I was hoping he would still be alive.”
7:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from more neighbors and additional background about the case.
2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from a neighbor of the boy’s grandmother.
This article was originally published at 12:05 p.m.