Mysterious killing strikes family again
On a December afternoon in 2008, a 12-year-old girl arrived home from school and discovered her father and 9-year-old sister shot to death inside the family’s Hollywood apartment.
Eighteen months later, on Friday night, the girl came home to an empty apartment. She became worried when her mother didn’t return from work, so the girl walked to the carport looking for her. There, she found the body of Karine Hakobyan, 38, slumped in her car with a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
On Monday, a team of Los Angeles police detectives were trying to piece together the three killings, which occurred a few blocks from each other in Hollywood’s Little Armenia district.
Detectives believe the killings are connected but declined to provide more details. Det. Michael Whelan emphasized that police have no evidence the victims were involved in criminal activities in Armenia or the U.S., which they immigrated to in 2003. The father, Khachik Safaryan, worked as a butcher in Hollywood, and the mother worked as a patient care service aide at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Sitting in the family living room Monday next to a shrine of roses and framed family pictures, the girl tried to make sense of what happened to her family. She said Friday was a typical day -- she and her mother exchanged cellphone calls throughout the day and she expected her home by 8 p.m. What she saw when she got to the carport horrified her.
“I just saw blood,” the girl said. “That’s when I knew something was seriously wrong.”
The girl was surrounded by grandparents, extended family and friends, all wearing black and huddling together on a sofa. Amid the mourners, the girl made it clear that she wants justice for her sister and parents.
“We just want them to find the people who did this so they can finally get their punishment,” she said.
Detectives said they are keeping a close eye on the girl, making sure she has access to counseling and protection as she deals with the tragedies. Whelan described her as good student who planned to go to college. She’s showing remarkable strength amid the violence that has befallen the family, he added.
“She’s very intelligent, and very well-grounded despite of this horrific thing that has happened to her,” Whelan said. “She’s held up in some regards better than some of the family members around her.”
The violence began Dec. 11, 2008. That morning, the girl’s sister Lucine was to recite a poem in school, her first one in English. But she never had the chance.
Police believe that the gunman entered the family’s apartment between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. -- after the 12-year-old girl went to school but before her younger sister could leave. There were no reports of gunshots and the bodies were not discovered until the girl came home from school that afternoon.
The slaying shocked the neighborhood of low-rise apartments in east Hollywood, particularly because the assailant killed a 9-year-old girl. But detectives at the time struggled to identify a motive or suspects.
Several months later, the girl drafted a letter to President Obama and other leaders, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking for help in solving the case. In the letter, which she had not yet sent, she recounted how the loss changed her family.
“I am hoping that you, Mr. President, will find time to put pressure . . . to solve the hideous murder of my beloved sister and father,” she wrote. “I still see the bloody bodies of my sister and my father as I found them that day.”
She said that Dec. 11 “was an ordinary day for a lot of people; but for us this day was special” because of the poetry reading. “My whole family was excited. Unfortunately, this day was tragic.”
She also wrote about the grim toll of the killings. “Our family is falling apart now,” she wrote. “My grandparents are sick and depressed. My mother cannot cope with the loss of her husband and daughter. I am not in any better shape.”
After the killings, the girl and her mother moved to another apartment nearby. It was there, in the carport, where she found her mother shot dead in her car Friday night.
As in the first killings, there were no witnesses and no one reported hearing gunshots.
“We have a theory and are running with that,” Whelan said of the investigation. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Friends told police that Hakobyan was depressed since the first killings. At Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, she was known as a quiet but caring employee.
Cathy Kissinger, her supervisor, said Hakobyan had worked as a nurse in Armenia and felt strongly about continuing that career in the U.S. “She had been going to school” at Los Angeles City College and “quit after the death of her husband and daughter,” Kissinger said.
A neighbor, Ida Khamis, 55, said Hakobyan rarely smiled after the killings. But then last week, she bumped into her and the girl at Macy’s “She was smiling,” she said. “I can still see her smile.”
Back at the family home, the girl said she hasn’t had time to think about her future. Before her mother’s death, she said, she wanted to become an attorney. “Now I don’t know,” she said. “I would want to be something that has something to do with this case so if they don’t find [who did this] I can solve it when I grow up.”
Times staff writer Corina Knoll contributed to this report.