Suspect in Valley Village massacre is named

Los Angeles police said Friday that they are searching for a 28-year-old suspected gun dealer in connection with the massacre of four men at a San Fernando Valley restaurant.

Nerses Arthur Galstyan is considered to be armed and very dangerous and is still at large somewhere in the city, possibly hiding with the aid of friends or relatives, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, speaking at news conference downtown.

Investigators said they believe anger was behind the attack April 3 against six acquaintances at the Hot Spot Mediterranean Restaurant on Riverside Drive in Valley Village.

Police said Galstyan was among a group of guests attending an afternoon celebration in honor of a friend who had died in an accident a year earlier. A quarrel broke out and Galstyan began shooting, they said.

Hayt Yegnanyan, 25; Sarkis Karadjian, 26; Harut Baburyan, 28; and Vardan Tofalyan, 31, were killed, and two other men were wounded. Galstyan fled and remains at large, police said.

Members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division have been conducting an “extensive, nonstop” investigation into the case, Beck said.

They have made progress despite uncooperative witnesses and conflicting accounts, uncovering leads that overlapped with information gathered in an ongoing federal investigation into weapons violations and prompting federal weapons charges against Galstyan, said U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. of Los Angeles.

Galstyan had not previously been the focus of the federal probe, Birotte said.

But early Friday, based in part on information uncovered in the homicide investigation, a federal grand jury in the Central District of California, which includes L.A. County, indicted Galstyan on charges of dealing firearms without a license and possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.

A law enforcement source familiar with the firearms probe said that one of the shooting victims, Tofalyan, is believed to have been a co-conspirator with Galstyan in weapons dealing.

Tofalyan is identified only by his initials in the federal indictment and the words “a now deceased unindicted co-conspirator.” It is not clear whether the slayings had any connection to the pair’s alleged underground weapons business. Police said they didn’t know what set off the argument at the restaurant.

Federal investigators are continuing their probe into possible firearms violations, Birotte said.

Galstyan’s background remained murky Friday. Before the killings, “he wasn’t on our radar for anything,” said LAPD Capt. Kevin McClure. But the indictment alleges that Galstyan cleaned and prepared firearms for sale and had bragged to an informant that he could get his hands on 10,000 to 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

The indictment said Galstyan or Tofalyan unwittingly sold weapons to a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives informant at a water store in North Hollywood several times in August, September and October. The merchandise included a $500 revolver, two $1,800 assault rifles and two semiautomatic rifles with the serial numbers scrubbed off, sold for a combined $3,600.

McClure said that two search warrants were served Friday morning on homes believed to be connected with the case and that Galstyan is believed to be the sole shooter.

“There is a great deal of physical evidence that leads to this,” he said.

Some of the slain men were acquainted with the victim of a 3-year-old homicide case that remains unsolved, according to police sources. Akop Akopyan, 24, was found dead on a Hollywood roadside March 12, 2007, with seven bullets in his upper body.

Law enforcement sources familiar with both probes say Akopyan and the victims were part of a circle of friends who did business together, but the sources made no other connection between the two cases.

According to a law enforcement source, all four victims in the Valley Village case have connections to Armenian Power, a violent street gang in East Hollywood and Glendale. But none were listed on the county gang database as formal members of the group. All four are familiar to investigators who specialize in Eurasian-related crimes.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian stood next to the chief and federal officials at Friday’s news conference, at which police sought the public’s help in locating Galstyan.

Krekorian praised the efforts of the LAPD and various federal agencies, including the ATF and the Secret Service. “A crime like this will never be tolerated. Not in the San Fernando Valley. Not in Los Angeles,” he said.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call LAPD homicide detectives at (213) 486-6890.

Times staff writer Jill Leovy contributed to this report.