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Suspected Killer Is Found Dead

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Police on Friday found the body of a Sherman Oaks auto mechanic who authorities believe fatally shot his estranged wife and 13-year-old daughter and critically injured two older daughters before jumping or falling from a bridge into the Los Angeles River.

Police said they suspect that Gabriel “Gaby” Ghazelian, 9, fatally shot his wife, Zabel, 42, and daughter Garine in the family’s minivan Thursday night near Griffith Park.

Friends said Ghazelian was distraught over the dissolution of his marriage and missed his children. The couple had been separated for a year, police said, and a divorce was pending.

Police found the father’s body in the riverbed shortly after 2 p.m. Friday, below the interchange of the Ventura and Golden State freeways.

Thursday night, Ghazelian, a part-time wedding photographer, visited the Burbank apartment of his wife and three daughters, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Mark Kelley. Ghazelian told his family that his car had broken down on Riverside Drive near the Ventura Freeway, Kelly said.

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His wife agreed to drive him to his vehicle, and they took their daughters along, the sergeant said.

As Zabel Ghazelian drove south on Riverside toward Zoo Drive, her husband pulled out a handgun he had hidden in his waistband and began shooting, Kelly said.

Gary Mosher, 46, of Burbank saw the minivan stopped ahead of him about 8:15 p.m. He found Zabel dead in the front seat and Garine in the back.

The eldest daughter, Christine, who turned 16 Friday, had been shot in the mouth.

Another daughter, Talar, 14, was bleeding from her head. Police originally believed that she had also been shot. But hospital authorities said Friday that she had been struck by a blunt object, possibly the butt of a handgun.

Mosher said Christine was trying to help Talar and call for help when he arrived.

“Christine was sitting on the curb trying to dial her cell phone, but you couldn’t understand what she was saying because she’d been shot in the mouth,” Mosher said Friday. “The 14-year-old wanted to get up, but you could see in her eyes there was something not quite right. I had my arm around Christine, who was trying to calm the other one down.

“There was just blood everywhere,” he said. “I just can’t imagine what it could have been like for those three girls to be sitting in the car and watch this happen.”

Talar and Christine were taken to County-USC Medical Center. Both were in critical condition in the intensive care unit Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Mosher said he did not see the father at the scene.

For the last three years, Zabel Ghazelian had taught Armenian language classes at the Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood, where her three daughters were enrolled.

Principal Viken Yacoubian described Zabel on Friday as an enthusiastic teacher with a great sense of humor. He said the girls, in the eighth, ninth and 11th grades, “were, like their mother, very charismatic and enthusiastic, and good students.”

Yacoubian said administrators broke the news of the deaths to students and faculty Friday, the last day of school before Christmas break.

Landlord and family friend Joe Nishanian said police searched Ghazelian’s apartment Friday morning and found a note addressed to Nishanian, thanking him for his friendship.

Nishanian said Ghazelian was a religious man who was upset about his pending divorce. “He [was] a very nice guy, a feminine type of guy--very affectionate,” Nishanian said. “But he was fed up with life.”

Nishanian said Ghazelian had told him this week that he was moving out of his apartment. On Thursday morning, a workman at the apartment building told Nishanian that Ghazelian, dressed in a suit, had left his apartment with a suitcase. Nishanian said he called Ghazelian on his cell phone.

Ghazelian said he was headed for Las Vegas.

“I said, ‘Why are you going to Vegas?’ ” Nishanian recalled. “He said, ‘My wife doesn’t want me. My kids don’t want me. I’m going to Vegas with my girlfriend.’ But he didn’t have a girlfriend.”

According to Nishanian, the family was Armenian with roots in Lebanon and Syria. They had moved to California from Canada in 1987, he said, but after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 moved back to Canada. Nishanian said Ghazelian returned to Los Angeles after suffering health and job problems.

After their return, the family apparently continued to have financial troubles. Nishanian said he made several large loans to his friend, and he believes that financial pressures hurt the marriage.

“There were misunderstandings,” he said. “Most of it was [over] money. . . . She would say [to him], ‘Look, this guy owns a business, that guy owns a business, what about you?’ ”

On Friday, students at Pilibos Armenian School spoke fondly of Zabel Ghazelian and her daughters.

“She was my favorite teacher,” said David Menedjyan, 17 a senior. “She was . . . willing to listen to our problems. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”

At school functions and celebrations, Zabel Ghazelian could be counted on to get the party going.

“She would be the one to galvanize everyone to have fun, to sing, to dance,” Yacoubian said. “She was so full of life.”

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Times staff writer Elise Gee contributed to this story.


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