Riverside murders 2020

Riverside murders 2020 DEFAULT

‘Renewed hope for justice’: Suspect arrested in 2020 killing of man outside Riverside hotel on Valentine’s Day

A Rubidoux family is gathering Thursday to thank police for making an arrest in the killing of a 57-year-old father, who was shot and killed outside a Riverside hotel on Valentine’s Day last year.

Grant Leggette Sr. was walking to his car after an event at the Marriott Hotel in the 3400 block of Market Street in Riverside on the night of Feb. 14, 2020, when someone shot him multiple times and fled.

The father later died at a hospital.

Several agencies investigated the killing for over a year, eventually turning the case over to a cold case unit in January. An initial $10,000 reward for information later turned into a $30,000 reward in March 2021, as officials tried to get more information.

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Then, investigators finally had a suspect.

Betty and Grant Leggette are seen in an undated photo released by the Riverside Police Department on June 30, 2021.

Richard Kevin Baldwin III, 29, of Moreno Valley was identified as a suspect in the man’s killing. He was already in custody at a Los Angeles County jail on unrelated robbery and weapons charges, the Riverside Police Department said last week in a news release.

On June 25, Baldwin III was transferred to the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside and booked on suspicion of murder, personal use of a firearm and lying in wait, according to the Police Department.

“I want to thank God for the strength, peace and joy this day has given me. I also want to thank the Riverside Police Department and everyone who have worked so hard to resolve this case resulting in the arrest of the man who murdered my husband,” the victim’s wife, Betty Leggette, said in a statement released by police.

“There are no words that will accurately describe my appreciation and gratitude for all the prayers, dedication, and hard work from so many that has given renewed hope for justice,” she added.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Karla Beler at 951-353-7138 or [email protected],

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Sours: https://ktla.com/news/local-news/renewed-hope-for-justice-suspect-arrested-in-2020-killing-of-man-outside-riverside-hotel/

A murder charge was filed Wednesday, June 30, against a 29-year-old man accused of gunning down a Jurupa Valley grandfather outside a downtown Riverside hotel following a Valentine’s Day event in 2020.

Richard Kevin Baldwin of Los Angeles was arrested last week following a Riverside Police Department Cold Case Squad investigation.

Along with first-degree murder, Baldwin is charged with a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations for the death of 57-year-old Grant Leggette Sr.

The defendant is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail and is slated to make his initial court appearance Thursday at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

“I want to thank God for the strength, peace and joy this day has given me,” Betty Leggette, the victim’s wife, said in a statement released by police. “I also want to thank the Riverside Police Department and everyone who have worked so hard to resolve this case. There are no words that will accurately describe my appreciation and gratitude for all the prayers, dedication and hard work from so many that has given renewed hope for justice.”

According to Riverside police Officer Javier Cabrera, cold case detectives developed leads after a $30,000 reward was approved by the City Council in March for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person responsible for killing Leggette.

On the night of Feb. 14, 2020, the handyman joined friends for a Valentine’s Day event downtown and was headed to his car in a parking lot adjacent to the Marriott hotel on Market Street when he was ambushed, according to police.

Leggette was shot multiple times by the assailant, who immediately fled. He died at the scene.

Investigators came up with few clues after the killing, and in the spring of 2020, the City Council offered an initial $10,000 reward for any information that might help identify the perpetrator. That reward expired without results.

On the anniversary of the murder, Leggette’s family held a news conference outside the Riverside Hall of Justice, pleading for the public to help the police.

Cabrera said the ensuing “extensive investigative work and long hours” by cold case detectives ultimately pointed to Baldwin as the alleged shooter. The police spokesman did not say whether there had been specific tips that propelled the investigation forward.

He said Baldwin was tracked down in Los Angeles County jail, where he had been awaiting disposition of an armed robbery case unrelated to the murder investigation. The defendant was transferred to the custody of Riverside police officers last Friday.

He has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County, though he does have an unresolved gun assault case pending.

A possible motive for the attack on Leggette was not disclosed.

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Sours: https://www.pe.com/2021/06/30/man-charged-with-murder-in-valentines-day-2020-slaying
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UPDATE: Murder victim found deceased in car parked near Perris Walmart ID’d

Trevor Montgomery

UPDATED: Sunday, Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m., With Sheriff’s release of victim’s identity. PERRIS, Calif., — Sheriff’s officials say a local man was arrested after deputies who responded to reports of a suspicious vehicle discovered a man’s lifeless body inside a car parked in the vegetation alongside a Perris roadway yesterday morning, Thursday, Sept. 9. The discovery happened on the sparsely […]

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Jurupa Valley murder investigation underway after two men found dead, woman injured

Trevor Montgomery

JURUPA VALLEY, Calif., — Although very few details have been released, Sheriff’s officials yesterday confirmed that a murder investigation is underway after two men were found deceased and a woman was found injured near the Santa Ana River bed Thursday morning, Sept. 2. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: More than one year after deadly Nuevo robbery, third suspect arrested during unrelated Perris […]

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UPDATE: Second arrest made in deadly Mead Valley shooting

Trevor Montgomery

UPDATED: Thursday, Aug. 12, 11:20 a.m. See Original Story and Updates below. MEAD VALLEY, Calif., — Authorities have confirmed that a second man suspected of being involved in the fatal shooting another man in Mead Valley last Friday afternoon, Aug. 6 has been arrested. The first suspect, Cesar Verduzco Rojas, 51, of Mead Valley, was apprehended the day after the […]

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Search for missing Cabazon man, 60, ends in tragedy – Homicide investigation now underway

Trevor Montgomery

CABAZON, Calif., — Authorities say a missing persons investigation involving a 60-year-old Cabazon man has transitioned into a murder investigation after the man’s lifeless body was discovered in an open desert area near a set of railroad tracks in Cabazon, between Almond and Olive streets. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: Minister who drowned at Lake Elsinore while rescuing struggling child ID’d – […]

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Man fatally gunned down on Palm Desert street

Trevor Montgomery

PALM DESERT, Calif., — A Los Angeles County man was found fatally shot on a Palm Desert street Thursday evening, July 15. Officials say the suspect(s) fled the scene prior to their arrival and that their homicide investigation is continuing. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: Initially declared deceased with “no viable signs of life”, man takes breath when pulled – alive […]

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Murder investigation continuing after man’s bullet-riddled body found in Riverside

Trevor Montgomery

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Authorities today are continuing to investigate the murder of a man whose bullet-riddled body was discovered inside a car parked in a Riverside commercial area early Wednesday morning, June 2. Officials have not yet identified the victim and have not identified or located any potential suspects related to the deadly shooting. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: $1.5 million […]

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“This has to stop!” one witness pleads after deadly Coachella shooting

Trevor Montgomery

COACHELLA, Calif. — Authorities say a man was fatally shot at the Coachella Valley Apartments in Coachella late Friday evening, April 30. No arrests have been made related to the deadly shooting, which happened in the 84900 block of Bagdad Avenue, west of Harrison Street. “This has to stop!” one witness later said from the scene of the fatal incident. […]

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Moreno Valley murder ends with man’s arrest

Trevor Montgomery

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — Authorities say reports of an assault with a deadly weapon in Moreno Valley led to the death of one man and the arrest of another man Saturday afternoon, May 1. The fatal incident happened at a private residence in the 24800 block of Heil Drive, southwest of Perris Boulevard and Brodiaea Avenue, according to officials. LEADING THE […]

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Moreno Valley structure fire leads to suspicious death investigation

Trevor Montgomery

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — Authorities say a suspicious death investigation is underway in Moreno Valley after firefighters who responded to reports of a structure fire located a deceased body inside the location that burned early Thursday morning, April 29. The fire that led to the victim’s discovery happened in the 13400 block of Old 215 Frontage Road, which runs adjacent the […]

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Trio charged in 2019 murder of Anza man, 64

Trevor Montgomery

ANZA, Calif. — Authorities who are continuing to investigate the 2019 murder of an Anza man, today announced the arrest of three people now charged in connection with the victim’s death. The fatal shooting happened at the site of an illegal marijuana grow on the 39000 block of El Toro Rd., officials reported at the time of the murder. Anza and […]

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Sours: http://riversidecountynewssource.org/tag/homicide/
Investigation finds California man cried out for help before death in Riverside County custody

Homicides surge 27% in California in 2020 amid COVID shutdowns of schools, youth programs

Police Chief Michel Moore joins other law enforcement officials outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, during a news conference about a rise in gun violence.

 Amid a pandemic that left law enforcement agencies stretched thin and forced shutdowns that left young men with little to do, California registered a devastating surge in homicides in 2020 that hit especially hard in Black and Latino communities.

The number of homicide victims in California jumped 27% from 2019 to 2020, to about 2,300, marking the largest year-over-year increase in three decades, according to preliminary death certificate data from the California Department of Public Health.

There were 5.8 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2020, the highest rate in California since 2008.

Similar increases were seen nationwide. The number of homicides in a sampling of large cities grew 32% from 2019 to 2020, according to preliminary FBI data. The data encompasses over 200 cities with more than 100,000 people but does not include some big cities, like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, that did not report.

The California death certificate data reveals striking disparities in who fell victim to homicide in 2020.

The number of homicides that took the lives of Black Californians rose 36% from 2019 to 2020, while homicides that took Hispanic lives rose 30%. By comparison, the number of white homicide victims rose 15% and the number of Asian victims rose 10%.

Most victims of homicide in 2020 were young, between 15 and 34 years old; the number of homicide victims in this age group rose from about 900 in 2019 to 1,175 in 2020, a 31% rise.

Firearms were the most common instrument of death, and the number of homicides involving guns rose 35% last year, the state data shows. Extending another long-standing trend: Males were five times as likely to be the victims of homicide as females. The number of male victims rose 30% in 2020, compared with a 14% rise in female victims.

Killings up 13% in Riverside County 

The increase in deadly violence played out across large swaths of the state, urban and rural, and was keenly felt in the San Francisco Bay Area. Among California’s 10 most populous counties, the sharpest increases were reported in Alameda County, where homicides rose 57%, followed by Fresno (44%), Sacramento (36%) and Los Angeles (32%).

Some rural counties also saw big jumps, percentage-wise. In far Northern California, Humboldt, Shasta and Butte counties all saw homicides at least double. In the Central Valley, Tulare County saw a 50% rise. Next door in Kings County, killings went from 4 in 2019 to 15 in 2020 — a jump of 275%.

In Southern California, Riverside County saw its tally grow from 122 to 140, up 13%. Ventura County saw a drop of 8%, going from 25 to 23. But San Bernardino saw a rise of 18% to 184 killings.

Only one of the 10 most populous counties — Contra Costa in the Bay Area — saw a decline in homicides last year.

Law enforcement officials and criminologists said an increase in conflict among young adults, particularly those in street gangs, was a significant factor in the violence. They noted that schools and sports programs shut down as COVID-19 surged, as did large numbers of community and nonprofit programs that provide support, recreational outlets and intervention services for at-risk youth.

“They were bored,” said Reynaldo Reaser, executive director of Reclaiming America’s Communities Through Empowerment (R.A.C.E.), which offers sports leagues, gang mediation and youth development in impoverished neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. “And so, having nothing to do — no programs, no sports, no facilities open — the only thing they could focus on is each other.”

Reaser runs a dynamic youth softball league that typically would draw more than 600 players and spectators during Sunday play, he said, many of them young gang members. But those games and other programs were curtailed during the pandemic.

Terrell Williams, an 18-year-old who lives in the West Athens area of South Los Angeles, said he spent many nights doing “delinquent stuff” before Reaser’s program changed his life. He said many of his peers felt cooped up and restless during the pandemic lockdowns, which contributed to an increase in violence.

“COVID tended to, I guess, make people not want to stay inside the house, and drove them outside more towards each other,” he said.

Jorja Leap, a UCLA anthropologist and expert in gangs, violence and trauma, echoed that theme, saying the restrictions on youth intervention programs and other healthy activities played “a huge role” in the rise in violence.

“The sports after school — football, basketball, whatever it might be — all that is stopped,” said Leap, a faculty member at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. “So, frankly, you got a lot of adolescent and young adult energies out there.”

Leap said young adults were particularly vulnerable to the mental toll of the pandemic. “They finally get programs; they have people interested in them. And then, it’s all of a sudden withdrawn,” she said.

Pandemic-fueled anxiety and isolation corresponded with a huge increase in gun sales, which Leap said may also explain some of the increase in homicides. “I am worried about how easy it has been to get a gun during such a crisis time in America,” she said.

“It’s not ‘Pick one factor,’” she added. “All of these factors reinforce each other.”

A man was shot and killed in Pixley, Calif. on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Pandemic took toll on police too, sheriff says

David Robinson is the sheriff in Kings County, a largely rural county in Southern California that registered 15 homicides in 2020, up from four in 2019. He is also president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, giving him a wide lens on a difficult year.

Robinson agreed that an increase in gang activity and the “mental impact” of telling young adults they had to stay indoors likely contributed to the violence. But separately, he cited the toll the pandemic took on police agencies. Many officers fell ill, forcing their agencies to reduce patrols and other crime prevention efforts.

The mass protests that followed George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer last May also diverted resources, said Robinson. And the anger directed at police made it tougher for some officers to do their jobs.

“When there’s this call to defund police, it has an impact on the mentality of the men and women doing the job,” he said, adding that constant criticism can cause officers to “become more reactive than proactive.”

Robinson echoed other law enforcement officers in noting that thousands of inmates were released early from state prisons and county jails during the pandemic to stem COVID outbreaks. He said he thinks research eventually will show a correlation with the surge in homicides.

Leap disagreed. “If you get two shoplifting charges, it’s a felony,” she said. “That’s who they’re releasing. They’re not releasing people from death row.”

With mass vaccinations taking place across the state and nation, more places are reopening and young adults have more options to engage in something positive. But Leap said it will take a broad effort to bolster jobs and education, along with short-term intervention aimed at those still hurting from the pandemic, to improve the social conditions that contributed to the increase in homicides.

“As much as we’ve never dealt with a global pandemic in modern times, we’ve never dealt with the aftermath of a global pandemic,” she said.

Reaser, in Los Angeles, is nonetheless optimistic. After a year of shutdowns, his youth softball league is starting up again. Finally, instead of trying to work out conflicts over the phone or online, Reaser can get young adult rivals to talk, face to face, and bond in a positive way.

“I really think that a lot of programs will open up,” he said. “A lot of violence will slow down.”

Methodology: This story draws on data from three sources. The data from these sources matches closely, but not precisely. Cause of death and population figures for 1979 through 2018 come from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cause of death figures for 2019 and 2020 come primarily from the California Department of Public Health and are based on death certificates. The exception is 2019 data for eight largely rural counties with few homicides. CDPH did not publish specific 2019 homicide figures for those counties due to data privacy rules. For those counties, 2019 homicide data comes from the California Department of Justice.

Phillip Reese is a data reporting specialist and an assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento.

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Sours: https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/nation/california/2021/05/16/homicides-surged-27-california-2020-during-covid-19-pandemic/5096101001/

2020 riverside murders

Suspect named in Anza murder – May be headed to Northern CA

Trevor Montgomery

ANZA, Calif., — Authorities yesterday publicly named a man suspected in the homicide of a local man found murdered at a private residence in the unincorporated community of Anza Wednesday, Oct. 6. Last week’s murder and subsequent investigation led to an hours-long lockdown and Shelter-in-Place order for area residents near the location of the fatal incident in the 61200 block […]

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Local man, 27, found murdered in Jurupa Valley

Trevor Montgomery

JURUPA VALLEY, Calif., — A murder investigation is continuing today after a man was fatally shot in Jurupa Valley early Saturday morning, Oct. 9. No arrests have been made related to the shooting, which occurred in a residential neighborhood in the 5000 block of Samantha Place off of LaRue Street, between SR-60 and Mission Boulevard, according to officials. This weekend’s deadly […]

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Homicide investigation continuing after man found murdered in Jurupa Valley

Trevor Montgomery

JURUPA VALLEY, Calif., — Authorities say a homicide investigation is underway after a man was murdered in Jurupa Valley Saturday morning, Oct. 2. The murder occurred in the 9700 block of Jurupa Road, between Rutile Street and Poinsetta Place, according to officials. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: California drought reveals 112-year-old freight train derailment wreckage on Shasta Lake Double DUI crash […]

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Riverside man, 21, suspected in father’s brutal murder arrested after fleeing to OC in victim’s car

Trevor Montgomery

RIVERSIDE, Calif., — Authorities say a Riverside man, 21-year-old Jair Armando Vazquez, was apprehended in the Orange County coastal town of Newport Beach after allegedly beating his father to death and stealing his car Tuesday, Sept. 14. Officials have since reported that Vazquez, who remains in custody where he is being held in lieu of $1 million bail or bond, […]

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UPDATE: Murder victim found deceased in car parked near Perris Walmart ID’d

Trevor Montgomery

UPDATED: Sunday, Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m., With Sheriff’s release of victim’s identity. PERRIS, Calif., — Sheriff’s officials say a local man was arrested after deputies who responded to reports of a suspicious vehicle discovered a man’s lifeless body inside a car parked in the vegetation alongside a Perris roadway yesterday morning, Thursday, Sept. 9. The discovery happened on the sparsely […]

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UPDATE: Stabbed by Redding juvenile last month, homeless Auburn man, 56, dies from injuries

Trevor Montgomery

REDDING, Calif., — City of Redding Police officials were saddened to announce yesterday the death of a homeless man who was stabbed during a violent encounter with a juvenile during what they previously described as an “apparently unprovoked knife attack” that occurred last month. The victim, 56-year-old, Felix Ramirez, of Auburn, California, had remained in critical condition until his passing […]

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Jurupa Valley murder investigation underway after two men found dead, woman injured

Trevor Montgomery

JURUPA VALLEY, Calif., — Although very few details have been released, Sheriff’s officials yesterday confirmed that a murder investigation is underway after two men were found deceased and a woman was found injured near the Santa Ana River bed Thursday morning, Sept. 2. LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES: More than one year after deadly Nuevo robbery, third suspect arrested during unrelated Perris […]

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More than one year after deadly Nuevo robbery, third suspect arrested during unrelated Perris robbery investigation

Trevor Montgomery

NUEVO, Calif., — Authorities have announced the arrest of a third person in connection with last year’s slaying of a San Jacinto man during a robbery at a popular Nuevo business where the victim was employed. The alleged suspect was arrested after being identified in an unrelated robbery last week of another, unspecified business in neighboring Perris. Two men were […]

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Fatal Lake Elsinore Fentanyl overdose leads to dealer’s arrest, murder charge

Trevor Montgomery

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif., — Sheriff’s officials say their months-long investigation into the Fentanyl overdose related death of a Murrieta woman ultimately led to the arrest of a Menifee woman they say sold the decedent the drugs. The victim was found dead inside a vehicle parked at a Lake Elsinore business last April. Online jail records indicate that the alleged drug […]

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Woman arrested after fatally stabbing elderly man at Shasta Lake boat launch

Trevor Montgomery

CITY OF SHASTA LAKE, Calif., — Authorities today said a woman was arrested after the fatal stabbing of a man near Lake Shasta’s Centimudi boat launch Sunday morning, Aug. 15. The man and woman involved in the deadly encounter were acquaintances who had gone to the lake together that morning, according to officials; who have said the couple began arguing […]

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Sours: http://riversidecountynewssource.org/tag/murder/
3-year-old's death in Riverside County investigated as homicide I ABC7

7 people shot to death at marijuana grow house in Inland Empire, authorities say

AGUANGA, Calif. — 

The sheriff’s deputies arrived at the dusty lot east of Temecula half an hour after midnight Monday. A caller had reported an assault.

They discovered a gruesome scene: Six people dead from gunshots. A seventh victim, a woman, was still alive, but died shortly after at a hospital.

Along with the bodies, investigators discovered what Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco described as the makings of an “obvious large-scale illegal marijuana processing center.” There were hundreds of plants, a makeshift greenhouse, a lab for using butane to extract valuable THC from pot plants, and more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana with a street value in the millions, the sheriff said.

Marijuana at a property where seven people were shot to death.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities didn’t identify any of the victims Tuesday. Bianco said his investigators were pursuing a theory that multiple assailants had carried out the killings, and he suggested at a news conference Tuesday evening that the sprawling operation had been overseen by sophisticated criminals.

“This was not that they just happened to be growing marijuana,” he said. “This was a very large operation, a very organized-crime type of an operation.”

California may have created a legal market for marijuana in 2018, but its black market remains robust; growers who raise and harvest their crop illegally can evade expensive licensing fees and other regulatory costs, undercutting their above-board competition.

A view of the property at the illegal marijuana grow house.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Violence, law enforcement officials say, is an omnipresent threat with illegal grows. Illicit harvests bring in huge quantities of cash to operators who typically are blocked from using banks or relying on law enforcement for protection. The killings this week add to seven other homicide cases linked to illegal marijuana operations that Riverside County detectives have investigated this year, the sheriff said.

Bianco said at least 20 people were living on the property in the small community of Aguanga on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest, which included a house, a trailer and other makeshift dwellings. The victims were found “in or around” one of the structures, although the sheriff didn’t say which one. Bianco declined to say whether any guns were found at the property.

The broken passenger window of a car on the property.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Trash littered the grounds Tuesday. Women’s clothing and soda bottles were strewn across the trailer’s front porch. A pickup was parked out front, its doors flung open to show clothing draped on the seats and an envelope on the floor marked "$8,300.”

Behind the trailer was a greenhouse, its cover torn open. Grow plugs, used to sprout marijuana seedlings, were scattered on the ground. Six metal folding chairs had been arrayed in a row; a seventh was nearby, empty boxes of pizza and water bottles stacked atop it.

A metal chair with boxes of pizza and water bottles.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Taped to the home’s front door was a handwritten note that read in English, “Welcome to our home, please take your shoe off before enter the house,” and a similar message beneath it in Lao, the primary language spoken in Laos. All of the witnesses interviewed at the scene were Laotian, Bianco said.

A tent and debris at the property where seven people were shot to death.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

On Tuesday morning, Eric Nguyen, 29, came to the property to retrieve his clothes from the house. Nguyen, who lives in Ohio, said he had come to California to seek medical treatment and visit marijuana dispensaries. He said he didn’t witness the shooting but encountered sheriff’s investigators when he returned to the home.

Nguyen said he and others staying in the home were friends of the owner. Authorities have yet to conclusively identify the property’s owner, but they believe the home was being rented out, Bianco said.

The sheriff said his department’s probe would be complex and span state lines. “This is not going to be an easy investigation,” he said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Department at (951) 955-2777.

Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.

Sours: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-08/7-people-shot-killed-marijuana-grow-house-riverside-county

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Seven bodies, nothing stolen: Were killings at Riverside marijuana grow ‘a message’?

ANZA, Calif. — 

The boy knew how his mother made a living. He also knew the danger inherent in it.

As recently as two months ago, he had stayed at a property in Aguanga, a small community in rural Riverside County, where his mother, helped by recent immigrants from Laos, grew marijuana.

By day, he watered the plants and lugged buckets full of soil and supplements that helped them grow; by night, he slept on a small cot in a trailer alongside his mother, her boyfriend and her friend.

Though he did not think his mother growing marijuana made her a bad person, the 16-year-old recalled an unease, the sense that violence could at any moment intrude on that dusty, far-flung property.

“It’s drugs,” he said. “And anything can happen when you’re dealing drugs.”

Half an hour after midnight on Sept. 7, Riverside sheriff’s deputies were called to the property, where they found a woman badly shot and in the last hours of her life. She would die at a local hospital. Elsewhere on the site, the deputies found the bodies of six people, all of them shot to death. The boy’s mother, Phone Chankhamany, was among the dead.

One month later, Riverside County’s worst mass killing in recent memory remains cloaked in mystery. The authorities have not said if they’ve turned up a motive or narrowed in on any suspects. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department has declined requests for interviews and placed security holds on the coroner’s reports, blocking their disclosure.

The victims — who, according to Chankhamany’s son, were mostly new immigrants from Laos — have little if any paper trail. No property records, court cases or other public documents that might offer insight into their lives or leads to relatives who could.

Yet what facts have emerged illustrate a brutal point: Violence haunts California’s illegal marijuana market, which, law enforcement authorities concede, dwarfs its fledgling, legal counterpart and comprises a sweeping array of players, from mom-and-pop grows to sophisticated drug trafficking organizations.

The murder scene in Aguanga was a large marijuana cultivation and processing site — a “major organized-crime type of an operation,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said. Everyone on the property — living and dead — was Laotian.

The dead were five women, ages 44 to 59, and two men, 53 and 64. In addition to Chankhamany, 54, their names were Souphanh Pienthiene, Thongpath Luangkoth, Samantha Sourignasak, Khamphour Nanthavongdovane, and Vikham and Khamtoune Silimanotham.

Chankhamany’s son, whom The Times is not naming for his safety, said his mother had overseen the grow. She was born in Laos and came to the United States about 16 years ago, he said in an interview at his uncle’s home.

Several of his mother’s friends worked at the grow, he said, alongside a revolving cast of recent immigrants from Laos, who, unable to speak English and struggling to find employment, would work and live on the site until they made enough cash to move on.

“Usually, when they come to the U.S., it’s the first thing they do to make money,” he said.

About 20 people were living on the Aguanga property, the sheriff said. Some had stayed in a beige, two-story house on whose front door was taped a handwritten note that read in English, “Welcome to our home, please take your shoe off before enter the house,” and a similar message beneath it in Lao. Others slept in tents and a trailer.

A day after the shootings, Bianco said his detectives were pursuing the theory that multiple assailants had carried them out. If that theory has changed, the Sheriff’s Department will not say.

Wade Shannon, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s operations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, noted the slayings came during peak harvest time, yet there was no sign the site had been robbed. “This wasn’t a rip-off,” he said in an interview. “If you’re not robbing someone, you’re sending a message.”

Shannon theorized the growers were either operating in someone’s territory or eating into someone’s profits. “This was sending a message. The question is: Who did it?”

To consider who might have carried out the murders, consider where they took place: the Anza Valley, a longtime hub for marijuana cultivation, and beyond that, the Inland Empire, which Shannon described as “ground zero for drug trafficking in the United States.”

The region is favored by drug traffickers for the same reason it is favored by shipping companies: Interstates and other major thoroughfares weave through it, leading to various distribution points across the country. Huge truck yards in Rialto, Colton and Fontana offer a pool of potential couriers, and the U.S.-Mexican border — across, over and beneath which drugs and the proceeds of their sale flow — is not far away.

Yet unlike other drugs such as methamphetamine, which is typically synthesized in “super-labs” in Mexico and smuggled north, much of the marijuana coursing out of the Inland Empire is homegrown, Shannon said.

Marijuana is bulkier than other drugs and more difficult to secrete in a cross-border shipment. “If you’re wearing baggy pants, you can hide a pound of meth in your pocket,” he said. “Marijuana, not so much.” For this reason, many drug traffickers prefer growing marijuana in the United States to raising it elsewhere and trying to slip it into the country.

Shannon divided the region’s illegal marijuana cultivators into three loose groups, each with a distinct modus operandi. Chinese nationals, he said, have set up sophisticated grows within suburban rental homes. They typically divert electricity before it reaches the meter and use it to power high-wattage grow lights and irrigation systems, he said.

They will grow inside a rental home for a few years, then abandon it. By that time, Shannon said, the house is all but ruined by the humidity, which breeds mold, and the reek of marijuana, which seeps into the drywall.

Mexican drug trafficking groups, Shannon said, oversee the largest cultivation sites in the Inland Empire — fields that are carved out of public forest land, tended by low-paid laborers, irrigated with water siphoned from public sources and doused in illegal pesticides that can poison groundwater. A bonus of growing marijuana on public land, he added, is that if the operators are prosecuted and their property subject to forfeiture, the government cannot seize the land because it already owns it.

The third group in the Inland Empire are Laotian growers, Shannon said. Concentrated in the Anza Valley, they typically raise their crop in plywood sheds and grow houses erected on private land.

At the scene in Aguanga where seven people were slain, deputies found a crude, wooden grow house covered with a black tarp, as well as a lab used to extract THC from marijuana plants. They recovered more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana, valued in the millions, the sheriff said.

Chankhamany’s son said he never learned to whom his mother sold her crop, although she once mentioned driving a load down to Tijuana. She was in this business solely to make money, he said. “She’s not a bad person. It was weed — it wasn’t like it was hardcore meth.”

Though his mother lived in the Temecula area and he in a different state, she called every day, he said, to ask how his day had gone and what he’d eaten. “She always said she loved me before she hung up,” he remembered.

This summer, after finishing his freshman year of high school, he stayed with his mother in Aguanga, helping tend her crop from mid-July through the first week of August. He would have stayed longer, he said, had some friends from school not convinced him to return for a birthday.

“If I was still there,” he said slowly, “I don’t know what would have happened.”

The boy recalled that two or three years ago, he noticed several faces were absent from the grow, faces of people he believed were business partners of his mother. When he asked about them, she said, “They’re not friends anymore.”

He sensed they had not parted on good terms. Now, when he wonders who could have killed his mother, he revisits that exchange, those faces.

“I don’t think it was a robbery,” he said. “I think it was someone who didn’t like my mom.”

Sours: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-10-28/aguanga-riverside-marijuana-grow-murders-laotian


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