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4 southeast L.A. County victims were part of 'random murder spree'; 2 suspects arrested

Cudahy, CA - February 13: A community member is lights a candle at a memorial outside of Ellen Ochoa Learning Center where a deadly shooting killed a boy on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Cudahy, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A woman lights a candle at a memorial outside Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, where a 14-year-old boy was killed in Cudahy. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

For the record:
12:16 p.m. Feb. 15, 2024: A previous version of this story reported that one of the shootings took place shortly before 2 a.m. The shooting occurred shortly after midnight, but was not reported to law enforcement until 1:55 a.m.
10:59 a.m. Feb. 14, 2024: An earlier version of this article identified Martha Escutia Primary Center as Martha Escuita.

Under a dark sky Tuesday night, about 50 people gathered around a street sign near Martha Escutia Primary Center on Bear Avenue in Bell, near where Kevin Parada’s body was found.

A photo of Parada was attached to the sign, along with a small bouquet of purple flowers. Below, residents left vases holding white roses, daisies and sunflowers. Dozens of candles bearing the images of saints emitted a warm yellow light onto the sidewalk.

A man led the vigil attendees — most of whom were dressed in black — through a series of prayers to God and the Virgin Mary.

“Give them eternal rest,” the man said in Spanish, to which the crowd replied “Así sea” — So be it.

Parada was one of four people shot and killed in southeast Los Angeles County Sunday night and Monday morning in a "random murder spree," the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said after announcing the arrest of two suspects.

The shooting deaths occurred within a five-mile radius in the space of a few hours in the cities of Huntington Park, Bell, Cudahy and Los Angeles, according to homicide investigators.

“It appears this was a random murder spree, however homicide investigators have not ruled anything out,” Homicide Capt. Andrew Meyer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing. “There may be other incidents, but at this time we don’t have any information indicating that.”

L.A. County and city officials and law enforcement from Bell and Huntington.
L.A. County and city officials and law enforcement from Bell and Huntington Park join Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Capt. Andrew Meyer, center, for an announcement of the arrest of two people in connection with the four slayings at the Hall of Justice in downtown L.A. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Meyer identified the two suspects in custody as 42-year-old Gary Garcia Jr. and 20-year-old Timberland Wayne McKneely. (The Sheriff's Department initially gave out a different name and age for the second suspect.) Investigators alleged that both men were believed to be affiliated with gangs, but said the targets of the shootings appeared to have been chosen at random.

Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, told The Times, "Detectives also believe that there might be a third suspect."

Read more: Sheriff investigating 4 homicides after violent night in southeast L.A. County

Parada, 24, was shot around 11:30 p.m. Sunday and found in a driveway near the Martha Escutia Primary Center, an elementary school in Bell, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. A second man was found at the scene, but he was not injured, authorities said.

Roughly 30 minutes later, another person was shot and killed in the 1500 block of East Florence Avenue in unincorporated Los Angeles County. That shooting was reported to law enforcement at 1:52 a.m., but the victim is believed to have been shot around 12:08 a.m., homicide investigators said. The victim, described only as a man, has not been identified pending notification of next of kin and was found in a parking lot.

Giselle Parada attends a vigil during a memorial for Kevin Parada on Feb. 13 in Bell.
Giselle Parada attends a vigil during a memorial for Kevin Parada on Feb. 13 in Bell. (Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

About four miles away and 12 minutes later, a 14-year-old boy was killed outside Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in the 5000 block of Live Oak Street in Cudahy. Javier Pedraza Jr. was shot to death shortly after 12 a.m. , the Sheriff’s Department said. He and another boy who had been shot were found by deputies who responded after reports of gunfire in the area. Paramedics were called to treat the teens, but Pedraza died at the scene.

The second victim was transported to a hospital and listed as stable, according to authorities. Pedraza is a Cudahy resident, and his identity was confirmed by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner.

The last person shot and killed Monday morning, another unidentified man, was found in the 6300 block of Santa Fe Avenue in the city of Huntington Park. A Huntington Park police officer on patrol spotted a person lying on the street near a sidewalk curb at 1:55 a.m., according to a news release. When the officer approached the man, he saw the victim was shot in the upper part of his body. Paramedics arrived, but the man died at the scene, authorities said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn called the shootings "troubling to me and the residents of these cities."

"I have been in contact with the cities of Bell, Cudahy and Huntington Park and offered any assistance we can provide," Hahn said in a statement. "It is especially concerning how close two of these shootings were to schools. I am confident that our Sheriff’s Department will find those responsible. If you have any information that could assist our detectives in this investigation, I urge you to come forward as soon as possible.”

At each shooting scene, a red Honda Pilot was spotted in surveillance footage driving away, according to Meyer. Law enforcement officials were able to identify the license plate and issued a bulletin that the driver wanted was armed and dangerous.

A map of the shooting locations is provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
A map of the shooting locations is provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department during an announcement of the arrest of two people in connection with the four slayings. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A vehicle matching the description was pulled over by San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies at 4 p.m. on Monday and the suspects were taken into custody.

Natalin Daldalian, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office, said two deputy public defenders were denied access Tuesday when they tried to meet with Garcia and McKneely at a sheriff's station in East Los Angeles. The suspects have not been appointed deputy public defenders to represent them, but Daldalian said her office would "continue its efforts to speak with both."

Sheriff's Department officials didn't immediately return a request for comment about Daldalian's claims.

East Los Angeles Sheriff's Station Capt. Brandon Dean said there would be increased patrols in Cudahy.

"We're still increasing our presence just to bring some of those community concerns down," Dean said.

"Obviously our unfortunate incident happened very close to a K-8 school," he added. "We will be working with the school districts to offer them services as well."

Bell Mayor Fidencio Gallardo said that city residents and those from surrounding communities "can feel safe once again" and encouraged students to return to school. "The shootings were not school related, so it's safe to go to school," he said.

In a GoFundMe post, Parada's aunt Michelle Ramos said her nephew was not affiliated with any gangs and "we know very little as to why someone would do this."

"He had a family and his baby boy it's such a tragedy for his life to be cut short," she wrote in the campaign asking for help to pay for funeral expenses.

In a separate post, Pedraza's family said they are "in pain and suffering from this tragic incident."

"Unfortunately, one of our own, a 14 year old boy was taken from us too soon," Monica Acevedo wrote. "We do not have the full details as to how the incident occurred but we are slowly piecing the puzzle together."

Gamaliel Aguirre, who lives across from the small house in Cudahy where Pedraza lived with his mother, recalled the boy as a quiet kid who used to play soccer with Aguirre's nephew in their cul-de-sac.

In the last year, Pedraza had started associating with a new crowd, Aguirre said. Sometimes he'd come out for a late-night cigarette and see Pedraza hanging out in the street with them.

"That's the thing to do around here. Everybody likes to tag, likes to gang bang," Aguirre said. The area of Cudahy where Pedraza lived was contested by the 18th Street, DIA and Florencia gangs, he explained. "Right now it's hot. They're all beefing right now."

Aguirre pointed to a scrawl of black paint on the pavement behind an apartment complex in the cul-de-sac. The tag represented a clique, or subset, of 18th Street, Aguirre said. Pedraza, he said, was the one who sprayed the letters.

Pedraza was found shot outside Ellen Ochoa Learning Center with another boy, the same school that he attended as an eighth-grader, Aguirre said. The school's green roof can be seen from Aguirre's street.

He described Pedraza as tall for his age. "That's why when he got shot, they thought it was a man. But he was a kid," Aguirre said.

Pedraza's parents weren't home Tuesday morning, their landlord said. The teen's mother did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the shade of an orange tree, someone had set up a small table with flowers and photographs of Pedraza.

Anyone with information can call the department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips can be made to the Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers through its website or by dialing (800) 222-8477.

Times staff writers Matthew Ormseth, Keri Blakinger and Andrew J. Campa contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.