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LAPD arrests 'person of interest' in 3 Valley slayings

Police have 'person of interest' in custody after three shootings in the San Fernando Valley

Los Angeles police have arrested a "person of interest" as they probe a series of seemingly random early-morning shootings that left three people dead and four wounded in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

LAPD Sgt. Frank Preciado confirmed SWAT officers took into custody a man who had barricaded himself in a house on the 13700 block of Kismet Ave. in Sylmar. Preciado said the man was a “person of interest” in the killings but would not comment further.

Around 8:30 p.m., officers at the scene discussed the operation. One officer told others the man was a suspect in the killings and was also wanted on a warrant for animal cruelty.

After officers discussed efforts to make contact with the suspect over a cellphone, they reported seeing him trying to flee the house. He was quickly taken into custody. Officers reported over the radio that he had been found with a shotgun. It was not immediately clear what led police to the arrest.

Witnesses said two gunmen were driving a tan, gold or brown SUV, perhaps a Suburban or Tahoe, said Preciado.

The department's Robbery and Homicide division is leading the investigation into the shootings, which began just before 6 a.m. Sunday when a family of five was shot in the 1400 block of Celis Street as they drove to the nearby Santa Rosa Catholic Church. A 22-year-old woman was killed and her parents were in critical condition, Preciado said. Her two siblings had minor injuries, possibly from glass or metal fragments. 

A second person was killed about 6:35 a.m., as he was hunting for recyclables at the Sylmar Recreation Center. He was gunned down as he walked toward the SUV in the parking lot, police said. "They never got out of the vehicle," Preciado said of the shooters.

The third fatal shooting occurred in the 12900 block of Filmore Street, where a woman was shot in her car. Residents called police after hearing the gunfire. Family and friends identified the victim as Gloria Esperanza Tobar, 59.

The identities of the other victims were not released as authorities worked to notify next of kin.

At the scene of the first shooting on Celis Street, blood spattered the sidewalk in front of an orange stucco house. In the afternoon, after the crime scene tape had come down and detectives had departed, residents washed the blood away with water. 

The owner of the house, who did not want to be identified, said the family that had been shot had lived next door to him until a few years ago.

"They were a beautiful Catholic family, all the time in church," he said.

At the church, officials deferred to an archdiocese spokeswoman, who would not identify the family but said those who knew them were grieving.

"I can tell you it's a very difficult time for the parish community. They were very active and well-loved in the church," said the spokeswoman, Monica Valencia.

At the scene of the third shooting on Filmore Street, family and friends of Tobar took shelter in the shade of a church. Her daughter, Lucia Montano, said her mother had been waiting for a friend when she was shot. She and her friend planned to attend services at another nearby Catholic church, as they had each Sunday for several years. After the service, Tobar usually visited the neighborhood's elderly and disabled to help them take communion, Montano said.

"That was her life -- church and her family," Montano said of Tobar, who is survived by her husband, three children and seven grandchildren. 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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