Girlfriend Arrested With Suspect in School Slaying

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man suspected of gunning down three people at a West Covina vocational school has been arrested in Mexico, and his girlfriend--originally thought to be his kidnap victim--was booked Tuesday as an accessory to murder, police said.

Martin Meza, 24, a reputed gang member from Duarte, and Lisa Villela, 19, a former nursing student, were found Sunday evening in the Mexican border city of Mexicali and placed under arrest by the Mexican state police.

Police originally surmised that Villela had been kidnaped by Meza when relatives were unable to reach her after the shootings. The two apparently fled to Mexico with their infant son after the shootings last Thursday left one woman dead and two men wounded, police said.

"The more and more (investigators) got into it, the less and less it looked like she was a victim," Lt. Jim Dillon of the West Covina Police Department said.

After his arrest, Meza claimed to be a Mexican national and was being held in a Mexicali jail pending efforts to extradite him. Villela, a U.S. citizen, was immediately turned over to West Covina detectives who had traveled to the border city. She was returned to West Covina Tuesday night, where she was booked and held without bail.

Their 18-month-old son, whom they had taken with them to Mexico, was released to relatives.

Meza allegedly pulled a gun and opened fire on the campus of the North-West College of Medical & Dental Assistants last Thursday. A teacher was killed and a counselor and a student were wounded.

Meza then allegedly jumped into the passenger seat of a waiting car and sped away. Villela's relatives at the time expressed fears for her safety because she had not been seen in the two days before the shootings.

But police now say she was probably the getaway driver and went along with Meza willingly.

Dillon said the pair had been seen together often after the shootings, and had registered under Villela's name at a Mexicali motel. He said several friends of the couple, interviewed by investigators, indicated it was unlikely that Meza had kidnaped her.

West Covina police alerted the Border Patrol and officers in several Mexican cities after the couple fled. Mexican state police, conducting a motel-to-motel search, found that the couple had registered on Sunday, but the room was empty. Later, officers found the pair walking down a street with their baby, said Ricardo Rojas, head of the police unit that made the arrest.

Rojas also said Villela appeared to be accompanying Meza of her own free will. "They seemed at ease together, like newlyweds," Rojas said in a telephone interview from Mexicali.

Rojas said Meza told investigators he suspected that his girlfriend was having an affair with someone at the school. Dillon said that such a motive, among others, was under investigation.

Dillon added that Villela is about five months pregnant.

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