Shock and hope for victims' relatives as Colorado man is charged in 1994 cold-case slayings of 2 men in H.B.

Twenty-three years ago, Alison Sommer-Castellanos was told her older brother had been shot to death in Huntington Beach.

A college student at the time, she tumbled into an emotional fog, feeling utterly alone.

Now, more than two decades later, authorities have arrested a Colorado man who once taught high school in Santa Ana and Los Angeles on suspicion of killing Kenny Paul Sommer and his friend Chen “Cosmo” Maui Blanchard.

Lamberto Ricci Castillo, 64, is charged with two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Sommer and Blanchard, both 23, on the evening of March 31, 1994. He also faces possible sentencing enhancements for use of a firearm. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in state prison.

He is being held at Orange County Jail in Santa Ana. He did not enter a plea at an arraignment hearing Monday morning.

Castillo’s public defender, Bobby Shui, did not respond to a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Huntington Beach Police Department said it reopened the case last year and reached out to the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force to help in the investigation.

Castillo was arrested April 27 in Alamosa, Colo., according to a news release from the Police Department and Orange County district attorney’s office that cited “newly developed evidence.”

Authorities did not elaborate on that evidence during a news conference Monday afternoon at Huntington Beach City Hall, where family members of the victims described their deaths as senseless.

Sommer-Castellanos said her brother was a loving and family-oriented sort who was engaged to be married when he was killed.

“He was robbed at too young an age,” she said.

Sommer-Castellanos said she had learned to depress her emotions and that having the case brought back to the forefront is difficult for her.

“We will get some closure,” she said. “But we will have to relive it first before we do.”

Gina Vercnocke, who had a son with Blanchard and is Sommer’s cousin, said at the news conference that she was in shock when she learned Castillo had been arrested.

“It took awhile for me to process my feelings,” she said.

Vercnocke got her first look at Castillo at the arraignment hearing Monday morning.

“It was very shocking,” she said. “He didn’t look like what I expected. And it’s still unbelievable to me.”

Both she and Sommer-Castellanos thanked the Police Department for bringing what they hope is an end to the search for the killer.

“It’s been a long 23 years,” Vercnocke said. “It’s been really difficult. It’s been something we have dealt with on a daily basis. There’s been a lot of hardships and heartache.”

According to authorities, Sommer and Blanchard were socializing in downtown Huntington Beach when Castillo confronted them near Main Street and Orange Avenue.

Castillo, a teacher at the time, had been on a walk with his wife, Meredith, said Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy.

Handy said Castillo may have challenged Sommer and Blanchard for urinating on the street. The three argued and Castillo walked away.

According to authorities, he returned 45 minutes later, at about 10:15 p.m., with a handgun.

Sommer and Blanchard were shot multiple times and the shooter fled. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene.

An off-duty police officer witnessed the confrontation but not the shootings, authorities said.

“Perhaps we’ll never understand why Castillo senselessly took the lives of [Sommer and Blanchard],” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Monday. “But when we prosecute him for the crimes that he committed, he’s going to understand a little something about the justice system.”


UPDATES:

3:50 p.m. May 16: This article was updated with the result of attempts to reach Castillo’s public defender.

6:15 p.m. May 15. This article was updated with details from the news conference.

This article was originally posted at 10:35 a.m. May 15.

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