Eliza Delacruz, 3 weeks old, was kidnapped and dumped in a trash bin in an incident that has brought exclamations of disbelief and horror from friends as well as police.
“There are no words to describe it,” said Aaron Cruz, who lives just two doors down from the family in Long Beach.
On Sunday, a transient found Eliza dead in a trash bin behind an Imperial Beach restaurant in San Diego County. The baby was kidnapped Saturday and her mother, father and uncle shot. Authorities, who are investigating, say it was not a random act.
Kneeling before a chain link fence on Monday, Cruz lighted four candles in memory of his best friend’s baby. He held his lighter to three pillars depicting the Virgin Mary, then to a white prayer candle of San Antonio, the patron saint of the lost.
“Everyone is in shock still that this happened to our friend,” he said.
Officials said the baby’s body was in a plastic bag amid trash in a bin just off a freeway near the Mexico border. Most neighbors were tight-lipped, but some wondered why the abductor was headed south.
“Poor thing,” one woman said as she pushed a stroller past the Delacruz’s cordoned-off door. “What could she have been guilty of?”
Monday, the girl’s mother and uncle remained in critical but stable condition at area hospitals. The father was treated and released, officials said. He spent Monday morning at his girlfriend’s side, according to Cruz.
“He’s coping,” the 21-year-old said.
Though Cruz has hardly slept since he heard of the shooting Saturday night, it’s happier memories that now come to mind. He remembers the baby shower for Eliza’s mother in November -- the pink tablecloths, the dancing, the laughter as Eliza's dad did the twist to oldies blaring through the speakers.
“I think that night was the happiest I ever saw him,” Cruz said.
And although he doesn't blame himself for what happened, Cruz said he wished he was home that night instead of in Cerritos, where we was gearing up to watch a UFC fight with friends.
“I’m just right here,” he said, referring to how close his home is to Delacruz’s. “I know I would have come out. ... I know I would have stopped [the shooter].”
In a statement, Long Beach police described the crimes as “heinous” and “horrific.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. The search for Eliza’s abductor and her parents’ shooter began shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday, when officers responded to a call at a home in the 100 block of West 51st Street in North Long Beach, police said.
When they arrived, officers found the baby girl missing and her parents and uncle shot. The preliminary investigation led detectives to believe that an adult male suspect had fled with the baby immediately after the shooting, authorities said.
“No one would wish for this to happen; they were a normal family,” said the Delacruz’s neighbor Servando Vergara. "This is a surprise. The saddest part is the baby. It’s horrible.”
Paul and Marilyn Mehl have lived in the neighborhood for nearly 35 years. In the three decades they’ve spent in Long Beach, they never considered their street to be unsafe.
“When I read the paper this morning I cried. It breaks the heart,” Marilyn Mehl said. “Paul’s face just dropped when he found out the baby was kidnapped.”
A makeshift memorial has been established on the sidewalk near the strip-mall trash bin where the infant's body was found. In strips of tree bark, someone has spelled out LOVE ELIZA.
Several dozen items were left: votive candles, flowers, wrapped candy, stuffed animals, booties and a baby blanket.
“She's with God now while a cruel killer is on the loose,” said a woman who brought a votive candle and asked that her name not be disclosed.
It’s the San Diego memorial that inspired Cruz to put out three candles during the small hours of Monday morning. The fourth, he said, was someone else’s doing -- a good Samaritan praying for justice and thinking of the family during tragic times.
Police are urging anyone who may know something about the case to call the Long Beach Police Department Communications Center at (562) 435-6711. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may call (800) 222-TIPS (8477) or text TIPLA plus the tip to 274637 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.
Los Angeles Times staff writers Matt Hamilton and Tony Perry contributed to this report.