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‘It doesn’t make much sense’: Neighbors shocked by death of young Simi Valley mother

Rachel Castillo.
Rachel Castillo, shown in an undated photo, was found dead in a remote area of eastern Antelope Valley on Sunday.
(Castillo family)
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On most mornings, Karina Reyes would run into Rachel Castillo around their Simi Valley apartment complex as the two mothers took their children to school.

Reyes bumped into 25-year-old Castillo and her husband, Zarbab Ali, at a recent Halloween event. She said the two were dressed in Super Mario Bros. costumes with their sons, ages 2 and 5.

For the record:

11:16 p.m. Nov. 15, 2022A previous version of this story said the apartment complex where Rachel Castillo lived was in eastern Simi Valley. It is in the western part of the city. The story’s earlier version (and sub-headline) also implied that Rachel Castillo and Zarbab Ali were divorced. Their divorce had not been finalized at the time of Castillo’s death.

Castillo and Ali were in the middle of a divorce but still maintained contact.

Reyes and Castillo were planning a playdate with their children, so it came as a shock when police knocked on Reyes’ door and asked if she heard anything from Castillo’s apartment on Thursday. She hadn’t.

The young mother’s disappearance cast a “cloud” over the quiet complex, according to residents who mingle in its tidy, green courtyards, tennis courts and swimming pool.

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On Sunday, when Castillo’s body was found in a remote area of eastern Antelope Valley and her husband was arrested at his parents’ home in Victorville as the primary suspect, neighbors said they were shocked and confused by the death.

“She was always happy, always smiling,” Reyes said Monday.

Officials have arrested Zarbab Ali, 25, in connection with the death of Rachel Castillo, 25, whose remains were found Sunday in the Antelope Valley.

Nov. 13, 2022

Castillo was last seen Thursday. Her mother, Robyn Castillo, said Ali came to the apartment to pick up his sons in the morning and that her daughter was supposed to spend the day working from home at her job as a healthcare navigator for a social services agency.

But when her sister, Emily Castillo, came to the apartment they shared, she found “a significant amount of blood” and signs of a struggle, according to the Simi Valley Police Department. Rachel Castillo was considered a missing person.

A day after Ali’s arrest, the wind blew through the nearby trees and fluttered the flame of a candle that had been placed among flowers near the front door of Castillo’s apartment. Investigators do not believe that Castillo’s sons were at the apartment during the incident.

The apartment complex is overlooked by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on a nearby hill and sits off Country Club Drive in western Simi Valley. The sprawling walled community boasts tennis courts, several small courtyards and two-story units in a pristine neighborhood near a golf course.

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Around the complex, Castillo’s missing-person posters were still taped to trash cans, doors and mailboxes.

Ali seemed nice, said Reyes.

“I’m shocked,” she said. “I would see her every day.”

The incident had left her saddened but also more considerate.

“We should take care of each other as neighbors,” Reyes said.

Another neighbor, who wished to be identified only as Luke, said he had seen Ali with the two children at the complex’s pool about a month ago.

He recognized Ali when his photo was released by investigators.

He too said he was shocked at what police say had occurred.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” said another neighbor who declined to be identified.

The neighbor said he learned something had happened when police knocked on his door Thursday night to ask questions.

For a time, he said, there was little information available other than that Castillo had been reported missing. “You could feel a cloud over the complex,” he said.

The incident had left him “totally shocked.”

“It’s a really good community,” he said.

Times staff writers Laura Newberry and Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.

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