A man has been charged after a kidnapped 19-year-old was found dead in a California field, officials say.
Gabriel Sean Esparza, 20, of Whittier, was charged with a number of counts, including murder, kidnapping and attempted forcible rape, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in an Aug. 23 news release.
Esparza pleaded not guilty, prosecutors said.
Shortly after midnight Sunday, Aug. 20, Andrea Vazquez and a man were in the parking lot at Penn Park in Whittier when a man with a gun approached, Whittier police said in a news release, McClatchy News previously reported.
The man with Vazquez told officers he ran away after the man fired a shot in their direction, police said. When he returned, he found blood near his vehicle, and Vazquez was missing, according to police.
After the parking lot shooting, which police called a random attack, Esparza is accused of taking Vazquez and driving “off with her in the bed of his pickup truck,” prosecutors said.
Esparza then drove to a remote Moreno Valley area, “where he attempted to rape her before dumping her body in a field,” according to officials.
Police said they searched for her in “large open land areas of Moreno Valley” and found Vazquez dead “in a vegetation field” at about 11:50 p.m. Aug. 21.
“Today is the saddest day of my life,” Enrique Vazquez, Andrea Vazquez’s father, told NBC4 after his daughter’s body was found. “I lost my daughter, and I can’t describe my pain.”
Esparza was arrested at his Lakewood workplace Aug. 21, police said. He is being held without bail.
“Our hearts ache for the devastating loss of a young life,” District Attorney George Gascón said in the release. “The heinous nature of this crime, involving the murder, kidnapping and attempted rape of an innocent young woman, shocks our community to its core.”
Vazquez’s mother, Ana Vazquez, told NBC4 “nothing makes sense” about her daughter’s death
“We don’t know this person (Esparza),” Ana Vazquez told the outlet. “Why did he do that? Who is he? Why my daughter?”
Esparza is expected to appear in court on Oct. 25, the district attorney’s office said. If convicted of all charges, he faces a potential sentence of life in prison without parole.
Whittier is about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
19-year-old found dead in field after she was kidnapped from park, California cops say
Man flees gunshots, returns to find blood and woman missing from park, CA cops say
Accused shooter in woman’s slaying over Pride flag identified, California cops say