A teen-age couple who packed a knapsack and ran away from home to be together died from a single, self-inflicted bullet early Friday moments after a Burbank police officer discovered them hiding in an empty house.
Police described the pair of runaways--identified as 14-year-old Daniele Lightfoot of Van Nuys and 17-year-old Lawrence Robbins of Sherman Oaks--as "typical Valley kids" who became a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. They apparently had sought refuge in a vacant house for sale in the 200 block of S. Beachwood Drive in Burbank, then died together in what police speculate was a murder-suicide or a suicide pact.
"They were more or less hellbent on being together, and were going to override their parents' objections," said Burbank Police Detective Richard Bison.
How Robbins and Lightfoot died remained under investigation Friday. But detectives said it appeared that Robbins--after pointing a .45-caliber handgun at the investigating patrol officer--fired one shot into his own brain. The bullet then exited and entered the brain of his girlfriend, police surmised.
They had known each other several months, and Lightfoot's parents objected to their relationship, detectives said.
Daniele was apparently "obsessed with this boy," said Los Angeles Police Lt. William Gaida of the West Valley Division, where Lightfoot's parents had recently reported her as a runaway four times.
The girl's parents reported her missing again last Tuesday, telling police they believed she had run away to be with her boyfriend. She was enrolled in 10th grade at Birmingham High School.
Neither set of parents could be reached Friday.
The white stucco house on Beachwood Drive has been watched by police for several months since its owner, an elderly woman, went to live in a rest home and put it up for sale, according to neighbors and the property's real-estate agent.
Although the house was supposed to be vacant, the owner's grandson and his friends continued to live there, annoying other residents of the quiet street with loud parties and fights, neighbors said.
The house had seemed vacant until Thursday afternoon, when neighbor Susan Kroyer returned home from work early and noticed the front door ajar.
Kroyer phoned the real estate agent showing the house, who stopped by and found a back door had been forced open, police said. The real estate agent also found a sheet and clothes, as if someone had slept there.
Police said it appeared the teen-agers spent Thursday and possibly Wednesday nights there. They said it was not clear how the couple got there because Robbins' car was with his parents.
Alerted to the possibility of trouble at the house, Burbank Officer Chuck Howell drove by about 3:50 a.m. Friday and saw people inside. When he let himself in through an open door to investigate, the young couple confronted him, and Robbins pulled a handgun from his waistband, Burbank Sgt. Don Goldberg said.
Howell, a 3 1/2-year veteran, went back outside to take cover, called for backup and heard one shot, Goldberg said. When he and the other officers returned inside the house, they found the dead youths lying one on top of the other.
Neither of the teen-agers, who were clad in shorts and T-shirts, had any identification. Investigators found one slip of paper with the name and number of a friend "and worked back from there," Bison said.