Man Jailed in Teen's Death

Times Staff Writers

A Garden Grove man has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a popular El Modena High School student and co-captain of the school wrestling team whose burned body was found at a construction site in an affluent hillside community.

The slaying of 17-year-old Diego Armando Gonzalez-Sanchez, a crime described by authorities as "a savage, brutal homicide," may have been the result of a lovers triangle, friends said.

Brandan Dante Perry, 20, was arrested late Wednesday after being questioned by Orange County sheriff's deputies. He is being held on $1-million bail.

Perry lives with his family. Deputies are continuing to question others who knew him and Gonzalez-Sanchez.

Gonzalez-Sanchez, who planned to join the military after graduation and then become a firefighter, was reported missing by his parents when he failed to come home Sunday. His body was found Monday beside a driveway leading to Hi Top Lane in Orange Park Acres.

A group of high school students spotted the body at 8 a.m. but waited nearly seven hours to report it, said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Jim Amormino.

He said the students were either late for school or cutting class in the morning and feared trouble if they called police about the body.

Amormino said that Gonzalez-Sanchez and Perry knew each other and that more warrants may be served.

Talk about the killing was rampant at El Modena on Thursday.

Several students said a dispute between Perry and Gonzalez-Sanchez arose from a love triangle involving a young woman.

Another person familiar with the case also said "the dispute may have been over a girl."

Gonzalez-Sanchez "was a really good guy who didn't deserve this," said Sam Sepulveda, a senior who visited a makeshift memorial erected in the teen's memory at the front of the school.

Private investigator Thomas Martin, hired by Gonzalez-Sanchez's family to be their spokesman, said detectives served search warrants at two locations Wednesday night.

He declined to provide details about the searches.

Martin said he conducted his own investigation of Gonzalez-Sanchez in an attempt to find out who could have killed him.

"I found him to be a squeaky-clean, All-American boy. I talked with his counselor, coach and 30 different people," Martin said.

"Diego was a good student with no history of drug use. The kid called his mother to let her know where he was at all times."

He said the family was relieved that investigators had made an arrest so quickly. "They are looking for justice, now, not vengeance," said Martin.

It was Gonzalez-Sanchez's failure to call home Sunday that alerted his parents that something was wrong, Martin said.

The family filed a missing-person report with Orange police Tuesday, but the teenager's body had already been discovered Monday afternoon with no identification on it.

While Gonzalez-Sanchez's parents, four brothers and three sisters remained in seclusion Thursday, his friends gathered around the campus memorial to remember him and console one another. They brought cards, bouquets and photographs.

Three girls wore black T-shirts with Gonzalez-Sanchez's name and "Our #1 Wrestler" on the back and his team number, 39, on the sleeves.

Christina Dominguez, twin sister of Gonzalez-Sanchez's girlfriend, Darlene, affixed Bible verses to the memorial wall.

"He would always tell my sister to have faith when she was down," Dominguez said. "Now we're trying to make him feel better."

The twins' mother, Jill Dominguez, said Darlene and Gonzalez-Sanchez had dated for more than two years. Like others who knew him, Jill Dominguez said she was impressed by Gonzalez's the boy's devotion to his mother.

Marine Corps and Navy recruiters also visited the memorial Thursday and paid tribute. Both said they had hoped to recruit the young man. "He was a cool kid, cracking jokes but very levelheaded," said Navy recruiter Juan Meza. "There is no doubt in my mind he would have made an outstanding colleague."

Gonzalez-Sanchez worked bagging groceries at a Stater Bros. in Orange, but the store manager declined to comment about his employee. He referred calls to the company's corporate office, which also refused to comment.

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