A Norwalk man, previously arrested on suspicion of threatening his estranged wife, allegedly bludgeoned her to death early Sunday and critically injured her neighbor, an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.
Monica Lujan, 26, and sheriff's Deputy Gilbert Madrigal, 45, were beaten outside Madrigal's Elmcroft Avenue home in Norwalk about 2:45 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. Responding to a neighbor's 911 call, deputies found the victims in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.
Deputies later arrested Monica Lujan's husband, Reuben Lujan, 29, at his Norwalk home about a mile away on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. He is being held at the Norwalk sheriff's station without bail.
Lujan was pronounced dead at the scene and Madrigal, who was taken to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, was listed in "extremely critical" condition with major head trauma Sunday night, said sheriff's Deputy Bob Killeen.
Relatives suspect that the victims may have been beaten with the heavy cement cover of an underground water meter set in the sidewalk nearby. The cement lid was missing Sunday and a Sheriff's Department spokesman said officials were investigating the possibility that it was used in the attack.
Madrigal, a 25-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department assigned to the Court Services Division, lives two doors from Lujan's family in the quiet, working-class neighborhood next to Cerritos College.
Family members said Monica Lujan filed for divorce two weeks ago. Reuben Lujan allegedly was furious and had been stalking her at her parents' house, where she was staying, relatives said. The couple, who met as students at Norwalk High School, had two sons, ages 3 and 9.
"She told me, 'Mom, I'm scared, I can see the rage in his eyes,' " said her mother, Frances Velazquez, on Sunday as she stood in her frontyard and wiped away tears. "She was scared of what he was going to do."
Officials said Reuben Lujan had been harassing his wife since they were separated in May and was arrested July 18 on suspicion of threatening her. Within a day, he posted $50,000 bail and was released.
"He had been following her, harassing her, trying to get her back," Killeen said.
On July 20, Monica Lujan filed for a restraining order against her husband, her relatives said.
"He has in the past hit me, push me and thrown things at me," she wrote in her application for the order. "I believe when extremely upset and when he does not get his way, he is capable of doing anything!"
But her request was denied by a judge who cited a lack of information about their separation and the dates that her husband abused her, according to documents provided by her family.
Distraught family members lashed out at police and the courts Sunday.
"She told them, 'I'm fearful for my life,' " Velazquez said. "She said, 'What is it going to take for you to do anything? Are you going to wait until I'm dead?' They didn't take the threats seriously. Now my daughter is gone."
A Sheriff's Department spokesman said deputies had made numerous visits to the house.
"They did everything they could," said Deputy John McBride. "They'd taken numerous reports and even arrested the guy. What else can you really do? It's frustrating for the deputies because they know what's going on . . . but it's real difficult to do anything."
Madrigal stopped by to visit late Saturday. Monica Lujan walked him home shortly after midnight and they stood talking on the sidewalk in front of his house, witnesses said.
"I was watching her from the porch, but I was getting sleepy," her mother said. "I thought she would be OK, so I went inside."
A few hours later, Velazquez was wakened by sheriff's deputies.
"I looked outside and there was her body on the ground, right on the street where her little boys ride their bicycles," she said, sobbing.
A stream of grieving family and friends arrived at Velazquez's beige stucco home Sunday to comfort the family.
They said that Monica Lujan was a busy mother who was a legal secretary for a Los Angeles law firm, but that she always made time to take her two young sons on outings to Disneyland or the beach.
She died two weeks short of her 27th birthday.
"She was a beautiful daughter," her mother said. "She loved her children. Why did he have to kill her?"