Police on Sunday arrested seven people on suspicion of killing a 12-year-old boy whose dismembered body was discovered over the weekend, hacked into more than half a dozen pieces and encased in crudely poured concrete blocks, police said.
Starting from a 200-pound concrete block, police followed a trail of blood and concrete to a house half a block away, where early Sunday morning they arrested all the people who lived in or were visiting the house.
The victim, Juan Delgado, who moved to La Habra with his family from Guadalajara, Mexico, six years ago, had been missing since Tuesday afternoon, when he failed to come home from school, La Habra police Capt. John Rees said. Rees said the boy had been strangled before his body was dismembered.
Police dispatched a priest Sunday afternoon to the boy's home, where his mother, Marguerita Delgado, sat crumpled in an armchair, tears running down her cheeks and onto her bare feet.
"I'm devastated, hearing the things that we've heard today," she said. "When the police came, I fell to the ground. I cried, 'No, tell me God. Please, Virgin Maria, tell me it's not my son.' "
A search of the house turned up cement mix, "cutting implements" and blood, police said. The suspects were questioned at length by detectives Sunday.
"Nobody knows nothing," Rees said of the suspects. "A trail of evidence indicates somebody ought to know something, but at this point we are getting unsatisfactory answers."
As Orange County sheriff's deputies with bloodhounds searched door-to-door for ten blocks around the curbside where the first concrete block was found, police investigators struggled to understand the genesis of a crime Rees described as "devastating, tragic, bizarre."
By late Sunday about 80% of the boy's body had been found, Rees said.
Police said they believe that Delgado's killers strangled the boy in a shed behind the house in the 600 block of West Greenwood Avenue, where four of the suspects were tenants. The killers then encased his remains in several homemade concrete blocks, put them into a shopping cart and dumped them on neighbors' lawns.
The first block was found at about 2 p.m. Saturday after a neighbor in the 500 block of North Willow Street, angry at what he thought was trash left on his lawn, kicked at the 200 pound block.
When he did, other neighbors who witnessed the find said, the block overturned, revealing blood and evidence of human tissue.
Police canvassing the area found a second, smaller block containing other parts of the boy's body. Using dental records and photos provided by the family, police identified the victim.
In custody are Maria Eugenia Astorias, 38, the owner of the West Greenwood house, and her son, Frederico Leonardo de Paz, 21, and daughter-in-law, Silvia Veronica Asturias de Paz, 20, along with four tenants who lived in a garage and another structure on the property. They are Martin Hernandez, 24, Guadalupe Lopez, 27, Oliver Martins Crispen, 30, and John Samual Ghobrial, 27.
"It's hard to believe the way the situation has unfolded, that these people didn't know what was going on," Rees said, adding that police are convinced more than one person is involved.
Police consider the suspects, all of whom are immigrants, flight risks. Investigators have 48 hours to produce enough evidence for charges to be filed, or the suspects must be released.
At the Delgado house, friends crowded in to comfort Marguerita Delgado, while a friend tried to call Delgado's husband, a truck driver on a job in Massachusetts.
Delgado said her son, a student at Washington Middle School, had left home for days at a time before. So, when he did not return from school Tuesday, the family was not particularly worried.
"The mother apparently did not become alarmed until after the second day," Rees said.
Times staff writers Davan Maharaj and Bonnie Hayes, and Times correspondent Lisa Addison contributed to this story.