For 25 years, the burned remains of a teenager found during L.A. riots was a mystery. Now, the cop who found him has the answer


This month the Los Angeles Police Department marks a milestone 25 years since the city’s 1992 riots. The department also closed a long open chapter of the violence that claimed more than 60 lives.

Armando Ortiz Hernandez, until now known only as John Doe No. 80, was identified through fingerprints. FBI fingerprint experts with a specialized disaster relief team were able to finally match a recovered single fingerprint to existing records in April of this year.He was the last victim to be identified. Hernandez, 18, was inside the auto repair shop at 5801 S. Vermont Ave., just north of Slauson Avenue, when it was set on fire sometime after the riots started on April 29, 1992. His body was not found until May 2.

Jorge Macias was a young officer patrolling the area at the time. He discovered the body. Macias had to wait 25 years to learn the name of the dead man. He talked to The Times about his recollection of finding the victim and what it took to finally make the identification:

Rioters at Florence and Normandie. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)


‘Officer, there’s a dead guy in there!’

Here are the circumstances leading to the initial finding of the victim’s body. Although I was assigned to work Southeast Patrol Division, this incident took place in 77th Division. I was patrolling around the third day of the riots, when I was flagged down by a 10-year-old boy. He said, “Officer, there’s a dead guy in there!” He pointed to a burned-out pile of rubble on the west side of the street, which I believe was either Figueroa or Vermont. I asked him to show me where and we approached the still smoldering structure. The boy pointed beyond some fallen girders which had fallen at acute angles ostensibly from the roof, when the roof had given way, sealing the victim’s fate. I had to duck walk under the maze of obstacles including the blackened steel beams until I reached the remains.

LAPD officers act as crossing guards at 50th Place and Vermont Avenue on May 4, 1992, a few blocks from where the body was found. (Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)


‘This became one of those salient moments in my career’

The ground was covered with some four inches of building materials including soaked drywall, which was like a thick opaque slush. Upon seeing the body, I noted the exposed parts including a leg were mostly skeletonized. However, the face and arms were saved by the ground detritus that had protected his hands and face, somewhat mummifying those body parts spared from the flames. I remember thinking that perhaps the Coroner’s Office might be able to fingerprint and identify the body so that loved ones would know what had happened. As a young officer, this became one of those salient moments in my career. I notified Communications Division and set up the ubiquitous yellow crime scene tape as I had so often during that tumultuous time period.

Map of riot deaths, showing John Doe #80 (LA Times)
(LA Times)


‘I am relieved that there is at last a name to this person’

I remember thinking that the young boy who had spotted the body should never had had to witness such a macabre scene. This latter thought has remained with me all these years and I recounted the experience to my children when they asked about these troubled times.

I moved forward in my career eventually making sergeant and lieutenant, where today I oversee recruitment for the Department. However, I never forgot this person or the young boy that first led me to the body. I am relieved that there is at last a name to this person and closure (if there is such a thing) for the family.

Midtown showing plumes of smoke from the numerous building fires in the city on April 30, 1992. (Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)
(Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times)

Macias is now a lieutenant in the LAPD’s Recruitment Section.


LAPD officer spared time behind bars in high-profile South L.A. assault case caught on video

Chapman awards honorary degree to mom who attended every class with quadriplegic son

State senator to introduce a constitutional amendment to limit UC's 138-year-old autonomy