MONTECITO HEIGHTS (CBSLA.com) — People who attended a community meeting in Montecito Heights Thursday night said they were relieved to learn that the murders of two young women last fall were not random, but rather it was a gang-related.
Jose Antonio Echeverria, 18, and Dallas Stone Pineda, 17, earlier in the day were charged with murder and ordered to be held without bail as they await arraignment on March 8. Pineda was charged as an adult.
The suspects are accused of killing Gabriela Calzada, 19, and Briana Gallegos, 17. The victims’ bodies were found in Earnest E. Debs Regional Park on Oct. 28, 2015.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck confirmed Thursday that one of the victims had been shot, and both were beaten.
“These victims were brutally murdered. They were known to the suspects who committed the murder. They were also specifically targeted by those suspects. One of the victims was shot. Both of the victims were bludgeoned. It was a horrific scene,” Beck said.
The chief said the suspects are gang members, and killings were the result “of a longstanding feud” between gangs. “This was motivated by hatred between gangs. Unfortunately, these two very young and very innocent victims fell prey to that.”
Investigators said both the victims knew the suspects, and one of them was actually trying to get away from the street life, which Mayor Eric Garcetti said may have made her a target.
“In that work, she had committed herself to turning her life around to make our parks a safe place for other young people who might be able to avoid the kind of violence that ended up costing her own life,” the mayor said.
Ariel Posueloz, who attended the meeting, said gang members killed his 25-year-old s on near Debs Regional Park just a month after the girls were killed.
“Many of my neighbors have been approached with guns or robbed or threatened or asked to leave the neighborhood because they’re taking over,” Posueloz said. “I think it’s terrorism. It’s not gang warfare.”
“I have to say that I agree. I think it’s a tragedy that a community has to live in fear. And that is really the purpose that we are out here talking to the community and let them know that we have to work together,” said Capt. Martin Baeza of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Police said 35 gangs operate near the park, and many residents are too afraid to cooperate with detectives. But only with the community’s help police were able to arrest the suspects. Investigators said they need the same moving forward.
“I don’t blame them for being afraid. But we’ve got to stop being afraid. We’ve got to face these people and fight them,” Posueloz said.
Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, where Pineda’s mother wept quietly as she watched her son and his alleged accomplice faced Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II. She declined to comment as she left the courtroom.
Pineda was arrested as he got off a school bus Wednesday. Echeverria was already in custody on an unrelated charge of shooting a rifle into an occupied vehicle.
According to the criminal complaint, Echeverria pulled the trigger in the murders.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Echeverria.
Pineda cannot be sent to death row because of his age even though he is being prosecuted as an adult.