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Man charged with murder in South El Monte firebombing deaths

Man, 19, charged with murder in firebombing attack at South El Monte tire shop

A 19-year-old man has been charged with murder, accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail into a South El Monte tire shop and igniting a massive fire that killed three people.

Robert Fuentes, a resident of Baldwin Park, faces three counts of murder with the special circumstance of committing multiple murders, according to a Los Angeles County Superior Court criminal complaint.

He is also charged with one of count of arson causing great bodily injury and one count of using a destructive device and explosive to injure.

Prosecutors said the Baldwin Park man threw the incendiary device into Cheque Tires, at 1252 N. Santa Anita Ave. before 5:30 a.m. Saturday, killing Rodrigo Gonzalez, 17, Destiny Monique Aguirre, 18, and 17-year-old Christopher Jimenez.

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FOR THE RECORD

3:28 p.m., April 29: An earlier version of this post listed the victims' ages as Rodrigo Gonzalez, 18, Destiny Monique Aguirre, 19, and Christopher Jimenez, 20. The correct ages are: Rodrigo Gonzalez, 17, Destiny Monique Aguirre, 18, and Christopher Jimenez, 17.

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At the El Monte courthouse Tuesday, Fuentes’ mother and sister described him as a responsible person. They said he was not involved in gangs.

The mother and daughter declined to give their names because they feared retribution.

Fuentes appeared in court Tuesday afternoon but his arraignment was postponed until next month. He is being held without bail.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives viewed surveillance video to place a gold 2002 Nissan Altima at the scene, then used the vehicle to track down Fuentes.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney with the arson and explosives unit said in court Tuesday that there were two witnesses to the fire, including one who knows Fuentes.  

Detectives do not believe Fuentes acted alone and are searching for additional suspects, sources said. The motive for the firebomb attack is unclear.

The tire shop was a community gathering place, so it was no surprise that a group of friends were celebrating Jimenez’s birthday there.

Gonzalez’s father, Esequiel, owns the tire shop.

Sheriff’s Lt. Victor Lewandowski said Fuentes was at the tire shop at some point before the attack, but couldn’t say whether he attended the party.

Gonzalez’s ex-girlfriend Rocio Guerrero said he got out of a gang because he "wanted to be good.”

Jimenez wanted to “prove to his family that he could do something” and help underprivileged youths, a friend said.

Aguirre, who has two daughters, ages 9 months and 3, was working on getting a high school diploma.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

7:07 p.m.: This article has been updated with Fuentes' arraignment being postponed, other details.

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