Two suspects tied to three killings in East Los Angeles
At first glance, the killings didn’t seem related. One man was found dead in his SUV. Another had been shot to death in a parking lot. A woman was gunned down inside a tent.
But now, detectives believe two men worked in tandem to carry out the murders in East Los Angeles that occurred from 2014 to 2018.
Different pairs of detectives were working the homicides separately until earlier this year, when evidence emerged that the same two men may be behind the killings, said Sheriff’s Det. Ray Lugo, who is investigating the three cases with his partner, Leo Sanchez.
Ballistics tests indicate the same gun fired the bullets that killed two of the victims, Lugo said. Detectives would not disclose a possible motive, but Lugo said the suspects knew the three victims and did not target them at random. All three were killed within about two miles of each other, Sheriff’s Capt. Joe Mendoza said at a news conference Wednesday.
The suspects are described as Hispanic men, one with a thin build and in his mid- to late 20s, and the other more heavyset and about 20 years older. Detectives believe the thinner suspect was the shooter in all three cases, while the heavyset man acted as a lookout and getaway driver, Lugo said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has put forward an $80,000 reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction. Detectives believe many people either witnessed the killings or know something about the suspects, but remain too afraid of reprisal to come forward.
“We need their help,” Lugo said. “We’re afraid these guys may do this again. They’ve killed three people; what’s to stop them from doing a fourth?”
Around 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2014, someone called Jesus Antonio Avalos and asked if he could jump-start a car, Lugo said. Four hours later, a passerby called the police to report a body in a car on Telegraph Road.
Avalos’ blue 1995 Toyota 4-Runner was parked in the opposite direction of traffic, its hood up, “as if he’s about to give someone a jump,” Lugo said. The engine was running and the lights were on. Avalos was still wearing his seatbelt, and shards of the driver’s side window covered his lap, a coroner’s report says. He had been shot in the head and chest.
Avalos, 33, had spent his whole life in East Los Angeles. The youngest of three kids, he attended Garfield High School and was a diehard Dodgers and Lakers fan.
When his siblings went off to college, Avalos stayed home with their mother and continued to live with her until he was killed. “He and my mom had a very close bond,” said his sister Bertha Avalos.
Avalos had three children and came to see his girlfriend’s child from a previous relationship as one of his own, his sister said. At the time of his death, he had a job answering phones for a county hospital, but he was always working some side hustle, said his niece, Diana Prieto. She recalled a time he came home with a load of watermelons and recruited her to help sell them on the side of the street.
One July evening the following year, Eduardo Robles, a close friend of Avalos, was hanging out in a parking lot behind a squat, brown stucco apartment complex on Eagle Street in East Los Angeles.
Robles, 38, a father of two, loved to barbecue and bring plates of food to his neighbors, said his sister, Llisel Robles. He was always smiling, “no matter how hard things got,” she said.
It was about 7:30 p.m. when the thinner of the two suspects clambered over the parking lot’s wrought-iron gate, according to Lugo. He confronted Robles and the two got into a fight, Lugo said. The suspect then climbed back over the gate, crossed the street to where Robles’ white GMC Jimmy was parked, and slashed the SUV’s tires.
The suspect drove off. He returned about five minutes later with a gun and opened fire through the gate, hitting Robles in the head and the back, according to Lugo and a coroner’s report.
The second, heavyset suspect was watching nearby, Lugo said. After the shooting, the two suspects fled in a Ford Mustang.
Police found Robles lying facedown on the asphalt, blood pooling beneath his body.
Fifteen to 20 witnessed this shooting, according to Mendoza, the sheriff’s captain. None have cooperated with investigators, he said.
Early in the morning of April 22, 2018, a thin man wearing a ski mask walked among the tents of a homeless encampment in the East Los Angeles Civic Center.
Amanda Nicole Lopez, known to family and friends as “Nikki,” had become homeless about three months earlier. Lopez, 27, had grown up in East Los Angeles, graduating from Schurr High School in nearby Montebello. In 2014 she gave birth to a son, who was “pretty much her life,” said Lopez’s mother, Rozelle Lopez.
But in the grip of an addiction to methamphetamine, Lopez drifted from family and her child’s father, eventually joining the ranks of people who pitch their tents at night outside the courthouse and government offices on 3rd Street.
The night she died, Lopez set up her yellow and gray tent in the entryway of a brick building that housed a field office for Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Lugo said.
About 2:40 a.m., the thin man stepped out of a Chrysler PT Cruiser, wearing a ski mask, Lugo said. He walked through the plaza, peering into several tents, before arriving at Lopez’s, Lugo said. He unzipped the tent, pulled out a gun and fired into it, then fled to the waiting car, the detective said.
Paramedics arrived within five minutes, but Lopez was already dead, a coroner’s report says.
“There’s somebody out there who knows something, anything,” Rozelle Lopez said. “I’m begging that they come forward and let the detectives know what they need to know.”
Lugo said the thinner suspect knew Lopez and possibly was infatuated with her.
Both suspects are known to frequent the East Los Angeles area, specifically a stretch of Cesar Chavez Avenue between Eastern Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard, the detective said.
“We can’t continue to let this happen,” Lugo said. “The neighborhood dies a little bit when you let people get away with murder.”
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