Four women were killed and two other people wounded--one critically--when a man crashed a birthday party for his estranged wife in East Los Angeles and opened fire with a handgun, authorities said Monday.
The shooting rampage occurred shortly after guests received a telephone call warning them that Raymond Navarro, 26, was en route to the party to kill Maria Navarro as she celebrated her 27th birthday, witnesses said.
The warning prompted a frantic call from the party to the sheriff's 911 emergency line. A woman believed to be Maria Navarro said her husband was en route to kill her. She was told by a dispatcher to call again if the husband showed up, but until then there was nothing that could be done.
About 15 minutes later, witnesses said, a man burst in on 10 or so guests gathered in a garage converted into a rental unit and began shooting. Navarro, two of her aunts and a family friend were killed. Another aunt and a male family friend were wounded.
Witnesses said the gunman had a serene expression on his face as he carried out the attack. He cursed once in Spanish before opening fire, one survivor said. He appeared methodical, chasing one victim into a bathroom before shooting her. In all, the attack lasted only a few minutes. Many escaped harm by dashing outside or ducking under beds and behind furniture.
The incident began at 11 p.m. Sunday on Lanfranco Street in East Los Angeles and did not end until 4 a.m. Monday, when the alleged killer surrendered to a law enforcement SWAT team that had encircled his father's apartment, where he had been living, about two miles from the site of the shooting.
Three victims died at the scene and a fourth was pronounced dead a short while later at East Los Angeles Doctors Hospital, police said. Dead were Maria Navarro, her aunts Francisca Arizpe, 62, of Los Angeles and Maria Garcia, 69, of Mexicali, Mexico, and Leticia M. Dipp, 46, of Los Angeles, a close friend of the family.
Meanwhile, a third aunt, Berta Galvan, was listed in critical condition late Monday at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, suffering from a gunshot wound in the head. A second guest, Richard Covarrubias, was reported in serious condition at the same hospital. He had been shot in the abdomen.
Raymond Navarro, an unemployed former U.S. Marine, was arrested about five hours after the rampage. He was booked on suspicion of murder and was being held without bail.
Guests at the party said it was a small gathering that included several relatives, a few friends at the travel agency where Maria worked and the Navarro's three young children--Claudia, 7, Denise, 6, and Raymond Jr., 5.
Guests said they were alarmed when Maria received a phone call shortly after 10:30 from one of Navarro's brothers, who told her: "Your husband is coming to kill you."
They said the warning terrified Maria, who last year had filed court declarations saying she had been abused and threatened numerous times in the past by Navarro. The estranged husband had kept an obsessive vigil on her, tracking her movements, ever since their separation more than a year ago, friends said. At one point, Maria Navarro had been granted a temporary restraining order, which forbade her husband from coming within 100 yards of her residence.
After the warning, Maria Navarro quickly telephoned 911. Late Monday, sheriff's officials released a transcript of that telephone conversation, which began with a stammering Maria Navarro telling a female deputy:
"I have a restraining order on my husband and he just threatened me, 'I'm coming over with a 35, uh, some kind of gun and shooting everybody out--I'm having a party and it's my birthday and, uh . . . ."
The deputy asked if Navarro had shot anyone. Maria clarified that he had not yet arrived, but reiterated the threat by saying, "Yes, and I'm sure he will."
"OK," the deputy told her, "well, the only thing to do is just call us if he comes over there. . . . I mean, what can we do? We can't have a unit sit there and wait and see if he comes over."
"Oh, my God," Maria said.
"So if he comes over, don't let him in, then call us."
"OK, thank you."
Sheriff's Sgt. Lynda Edmonds, a department spokeswoman, defended the dispatcher's response, saying: "You have to make a judgment call over whether a threat is emergent or immediate. If he was there with a gun, that would have gotten a real immediate response.
"People get threatened all the time," Edmonds added. "But that's a fact of life."
According to law enforcement and witness accounts, Navarro showed up about 15 minutes after the warning call from his brother, surprising guests by entering through the rear of the converted garage that Maria was renting in the 3600 block of Lanfranco Street.
He may have had to cross other yards and scale at least one wall to reach the place, a family friend said.
One guest at the party said the gunman uttered a one-word obscenity in Spanish and then opened fire.
It was not clear whom he shot first or why he stopped shooting when he did.
Francisco Amazcua, 12, who was in the living room, said he jumped behind a television console "when the man came in and started shooting. . . . I saw people fall to the floor.
"He told a lady hiding in the bathroom, 'Do you want it too?' Then he shot her. . . . After he left, I ran into the bedroom and hid under the bed with two other kids."
Among those who hid under the bed were Navarro's 5-year-old son, Raymond Jr., and 4-year-old Denia Uriarte, a relative visiting from out of town. The 4-year-old, missing two front teeth, talked of the gunfire and said, "When I came out everybody was dead."
None of the three Navarro children were injured.
Filed for Divorce
The killings came 17 months after Maria Navarro filed for divorce from her muscular, weightlifting husband, her one-time sweetheart at East Los Angeles' Roosevelt High School. In filing for divorce and protective custody of the children, the young woman described a long ordeal of threats and physical punishment at the hands of her husband.
In January, 1988, two months before she filed the divorce suit, the estranged husband made one of several threats against the children, she told the court. "(He) called me and said . . . 'How would you like to wake up one day and have one kid instead of three? You're going to pay. I'm going to get you through the kids. . . .' "
Maria Navarro's fights with her husband dated back even to their years in high school, one family friend said. At that time, the disputes took the form of teen-age squabbles over minor matters.
She told the court that Navarro also physically abused the children; in early 1987, she said, he "beat our 2-year-old in the face, leaving marks on his face, because he had wet his pants."
Maria Navarro moved out of the home two months after that incident, she reported, taking refuge in a women's shelter, but she and her husband reconciled after he began to receive psychological counseling.
"As soon as I came back, everything was the same," she said in a written court declaration.
"(In) August, 1987, we were in our apartment and we started arguing about him taking the children to his family's house. . . . He got angry and started pushing me and breaking the furniture. I got scared and run out for help to the apartment manager's office; he caught me at the door and started hitting me with his fist on my face. He cut my forehead and the apartment manager called the police and they took him away.
"He forced me to drop the charges and threatened to kill me if they put him in jail. The last five years I went through mental and physical abuse the same as my children. I never did nothing (about it) because I was scared of him because he also (was) threatening my family."
Another incident occurred at a public building in early February, 1988, she told the court, when Navarro allegedly tried to force her to leave the premises with him. He grabbed her by the waist, she charged, and "left the baby alone in the elevator, the door closed and the baby started crying."
She ran for the child and then went to the building manager's office, where she summoned police who took Navarro away, she said. "I was scared for me and the baby because I know what he would do," she wrote.
On yet another occasion, she added, Navarro was angry with her and said, "Look at the babies. You don't want me to hurt them, do you?"
"I can't go anywhere or live in peace," she told the court early last year. "Now I'm staying with my mother and I'm scared for (her) too. . . . I don't trust him."
After reviewing the lengthy account and receiving a petition from Maria Navarro last January, the court issued a temporary order restraining Navarro from going within 100 yards of his former wife and the children. The order was issued pending a visitation hearing later that month. He was also ordered not to phone his estranged wife, according to court records.
However, the restraining order, filed at the Sheriff's Department's East Los Angeles station, expired that same month, sheriff's officials said. It was not clear from court documents what transpired at the hearing on the matter.
Friends of Navarro said he was living with his parents and two brothers at a housing project called Estrada Courts, where he seemed to dwell on the pending divorce and on what he considered the meddling of his wife's aunts in the couple's marital affairs.
Bad Temper Told
He was described by friends as an unemployed man who liked to "hang out," party and lift weights.
"He had a very bad temper," said Beatrice Palacios, 27, who was a friend of both Navarros since high school. "They used to fight a lot. He used to get drunk. They had a lot of problems. . . . But I did not think he'd so something like this."
Around noon on Sunday, a friend said, Navarro had passed time at a nearby city park. The friend, who did not want his name used, said Navarro seemed very serious, not wanting to talk.
"He was just thinking, thinking, thinking," said the friend. "He left about 4 (o'clock) and said, 'I'll be back.'
"But he didn't come back."
Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey contributed to this report.
1. Four persons killed, two wounded when a man crashes party for his estranged wife.
2. Alleged killer surrenders to officers encircling his father's apartment.