Shell casings and signals from one of the victim’s cellphones led police to arrest two men in the slayings of two USC graduate students from China — a botched robbery that focused a harsh global spotlight on the campus that is a magnet for foreigners.
At a news conference Friday evening, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck identified the suspects as Bryan Barnes, 20, of Los Angeles and Javier Bolden, 19.
Barnes was taken into custody Friday afternoon by a team of LAPD SWAT officers, along with FBI and other federal agents, who raided an apartment near the USC campus.
Bolden was arrested three hours later in Victorville and flown by helicopter to an LAPD station on 77th Street by the same arrest team.
Beck offered few details about the arrests. But police sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation, said Barnes was the suspected gunman in the April 11 slaying of electronic engineering students Ming Qu and Ying Wu, both 23.
Bolden was believed to have been present when the students were gunned down during a suspected robbery while sitting in Qu’s parked BMW in the 2700 block of Raymond Avenue, the sources said.
The suspects were being held without bail and were expected to be booked on suspicion of murder late Friday. They are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.
Beck said the suspects did not have extensive criminal records but were believed to have been involved in two earlier attempted murders.
“Early on, forensic evidence made us suspect quite strongly that this was a part of a series of crimes committed by the same men,” the chief said.
Ballistics tests on shell casings recovered at the scene of the shooting show they were fired from the same gun used in two other shootings, police sources said.
The sources said Barnes took a cellphone from one of the victims and detectives were able to locate him by tracking signals sent by the device.
Authorities also identified a signal from a second cellphone in proximity to the victim’s phone, they said.
The second phone was identified as belonging to the suspect.
One police source described the case against Barnes and Bolden as “very, very strong.”
Detectives working on the two previous shootings had followed some “very tenuous” leads that they believed tied the earlier incidents to the primary suspect in the USC case, a police source said.
Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised detectives for their work.
Villaraigoisa portrayed the arrests as a sign of how seriously the city takes public safety and sought to reassure an international audience, in Spanish and English, that Los Angeles is not a dangerous destination.
“Safety is priority No. 1 in this city,” he said. “Students at our city’s universities should feel safe in and around our campuses.”
The mayor, the father of a college-age daughter, said his heart went out to the Chinese students’ parents.
The arrests came days after the parents of the slain students filed a wrongful death lawsuit against USC, saying the school misled them when it claimed that it ranks among the safest in the nation.
On Friday afternoon, one woman who witnessed Barnes’ arrest from her front lawn said that at first, she thought she was watching the taping of a television police drama.
“It was quiet, calm,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “We thought at first they were a crew filming ‘Southland.’”
She said dozens of detectives, plainclothes officers and SWAT team members descended on the 1200 block of 91st Street. Children played kickball in the street, and an ice cream truck cruised by.
Arresting officers swooped into a bright blue, two-story house in the middle of the block; the house is divided into five apartments.
They emerged soon after with a man in handcuffs, she said.
The woman, who said she has lived on the block for years, said she did not recognize the man, who had a medium build and appeared to be in his early 20s.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.