A 17-year-old Moorpark girl was struck and killed by a freight train early Tuesday as she was walking along a train trestle on her way home from a friend's house, authorities said.
Christine Ceja, a student at Moorpark Community School, was apparently headed home after midnight Monday from a late night gathering with friends when she was hit, said Sgt. Terry Hughes, who is with the Moorpark Enforcement Division of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
Her body was discovered on the east edge of downtown Moorpark, less than a mile from her home, about 5:15 a.m. by a Metrolink conductor on an eastbound commuter train.
Shocked by the news, her father, Frank Ceja, stood wearily in front of the family's small downtown Moorpark home Tuesday afternoon trying to make sense of the tragedy as more than two dozen family members and friends gathered to show their support.
"You could just write that I loved her with all my heart," he said, choking back tears.
Many at the home wondered why "Christy," as she was known, would have been walking home alone from Moorpark's La Colonia neighborhood at such a late hour.
Investigators still are unable to pinpoint when she was struck, Hughes said, but they believe it was after midnight. Two westbound Southern Pacific Railroad freight trains came through the city between midnight and 5 a.m., authorities said.
"Whichever train it was, the conductor probably had no idea they had struck anyone," said Peter Hidalgo, a Metrolink spokesman.
The incident stopped Metrolink commuter service from Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark for more than two hours, Hidalgo said.
A Southern Pacific Railroad spokesman said the company was unable Tuesday to confirm that Christy had been hit by one of their trains, said Mike Furtney, a company spokesman.
The railroad trestle, which crosses the Arroyo Simi, is a common shortcut for residents of the La Colonia neighborhood, who use it to walk to the city's downtown.
Geneva Delgado, whose daughter Elisa was best friends with Christy, said just about everyone uses the bridge as a route to get to town and that several people have been killed on the trestle over the more than 20 years that she has lived in La Colonia.
"Before you know it the train is there," she said. "There's no place to go once you're on the bridge. If you aren't looking it could easily get you."
Five people have been killed in the last decade along the stretch of track between downtown Moorpark and the La Colonia neighborhood, said Sgt. David Paige, a spokesman from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
He said the other deaths included a man who fell asleep on the tracks, a boy who dashed out from behind a parked train into the path of a speeding train, a man killed after parking on the tracks and another man who fell from a boxcar.
Although the trestle is commonly used as a footpath, Paige said Christy's death was unusual.
"Really the bridge is wide enough for someone to get out of the way," he said.
Investigators believe Christy was walking with her back to the westbound train and probably never saw it coming.
Friends and family members were stunned by the news, gathering at the family home on Ruth Avenue.
Alberto Rios, a family friend who had also tutored Christy as part of the youth outreach program Project Pride, said the family was devastated by the news.
"I talked to her father and he said she went over to a friend's yesterday and she just didn't come back," Rios said. "They were real worried, and of course this morning someone came by to tell them about the accident. The house is just in mourning."
Christy had recently been trying to turn her life around after dropping out of high school last year, Rios said.
She had begun attending a Moorpark continuation high school, with hopes of eventually returning to Moorpark High School, getting her diploma and possibly following in her sister's footsteps and going on to college, he said.
"You expect some of your students won't make it, but you don't expect to lose them this way," Rios said. "It's tragic. She never got a chance to benefit from her decision to go back to school."