YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

3 Children Slain; Parents Questioned : Crime: Deaths of a boy, 8, and his two sisters, 9 and 4, stun neighbors, schoolmates and teachers. San Jacinto officials say killings may have arisen in custody battle between estranged couple.


SAN JACINTO, Calif. — Three young children were stabbed to death Thursday, and police interrogated their estranged parents into the night in what authorities said may have been a child custody dispute turned tragic.

Police Chief Nat Holmes said neither Dora Buenrostro nor her husband, Alejandro, had been dismissed as suspects in the multiple murders.

At daybreak, the mother led police to the bodies of the first two victims inside her apartment. The body of the third child was found about 12 hours later, bringing a tragic end to a daylong search for the youngest of the children.

San Jacinto Police Sgt. Barry Backlund identified the victims found inside the apartment as Susana Buenrostro, 9, and her brother, Vincent, 8.

They were found after Dora Buenrostro had rushed to the local Police Department about 6:30 a.m. and beckoned police to return home with her. She maintained that her estranged husband was inside her home, and she feared for her children's safety, Backlund said.

Based on Dora Buenrostro's statement, an all-points-bulletin was issued for Alejandro Buenrostro. He was found at his job in Los Angeles about noon and taken into custody by Los Angeles police without incident.

About 7 p.m. Thursday, the body of a young girl, believed by authorities to be the couple's third child, Diedra, 4, was found about 10 miles away, in the unincorporated community of Lakeview, a police spokeswoman said.

A 15-year-old girl said children she had been baby-sitting told her about a body in an abandoned post office. She found the body strapped to a car seat and ran to a nearby home to call police.

Neighbors in the well-kept apartment complex told reporters that despite thin walls and close quarters, they heard no commotion early Thursday until police arrived. A police spokesman said no witnesses had been located.

Several blocks away, psychologists and mental health counselors spent a wrenching day at the elementary school, helping classmates and teachers cope with the news.

"They're about as emotionally spent as adults can be after a day like this," Supt. Bill Marshall of the San Jacinto Unified School District said.

Some students arrived on campus, already whispering the rumor of the slayings. Counselors gingerly broke the news to others, and then spent the day counseling students and staff on how to cope with their grief and confusion, Marshall said.

Co-workers of Alejandro Buenrostro, 37, a salesman at Colortone Lacquer Co. in the Silver Lake area, about 80 miles from San Jacinto, said they were stunned that he was considered a suspect in his children's deaths.

His supervisor said Buenrostro was already at work when other employees showed up about 7:40 a.m. Thursday.

"We're not doing any surmising, but Alex is well-liked, and everybody here knows him as a devoted father," the employer said. "This whole thing is weird."

Velia Cabanila, who shares a common wall in the four-unit garden apartment with the Buenrostro family, said the only noise she heard after midnight Wednesday was "a thump" around 3 a.m. Thursday, but then all remained quiet until police arrived.

Previously, she had heard arguments on many occasions, she said.

"The mother was not very friendly, and I could usually hear a lot of arguing going on, screaming at the kids," Cabanila said.

On various occasions, she said, she allowed the children to use her bathroom because their mother was gone and the apartment was locked.

Another neighbor, Adela Bond, said the mother was friendly. Bond said she believed that the mother frequently took the children to Los Angeles to spend weekends with their father.

The couple had separated more than a year ago and appeared to informally share the children's custody, neighbors and Buenrostro's employer said.

Los Angeles Times Articles