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4 Family Members Found Stabbed to Death in Home

July 14, 2002|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A family of four--a wife, a husband, their 8-year-old daughter and his grandmother--were found stabbed to death Saturday morning in their South Whittier home, a crime scene that investigators said offered few signs of a motive.

Miguel Ruiz, 37, his wife, Maritza Trejo, 41, their daughter, Jasmine, and Ruiz's grandmother, Anna Martinez, in her 70s, were known as a quiet, hard-working family involved in computer and audio equipment sales and repair, neighbors said.

Ruiz was last heard from about 9 p.m. Thursday, said Lt. Ray Peavy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's homicide bureau. A neighbor, however, told detectives that she had seen Martinez early Friday morning.

The bodies were found in separate rooms and the house had been ransacked, with walls and ceilings damaged, furniture overturned and drawers emptied, authorities said. Investigators said they believed more than one person may have been involved in the attack.

A computer was found in a neighbor's backyard, and family members told authorities that computer equipment was missing from the home.

No evidence of forced entry was found, detectives said. The murder weapon, which had not been found, was a knife or other cutting instrument, they said. Also, no one in the neighborhood had reported unusual sounds, including barking by the family's two dogs.

"It's possible they knew the person, or it could be as simple as someone coming to the door and being allowed in. I don't know," Peavy said, adding that the family had not been involved in "anything out of the ordinary" and that Ruiz had no criminal background.

Trejo's 21-year-old daughter tried to visit the family Friday night, but when no one answered the door she didn't think enough of it to become concerned and spent the night with an aunt, Peavy said. On Saturday morning, the two returned to discover the bodies in the house in the 10200 block of Gunn Avenue.

"My entire family has just been stabbed to death--my brother, my grandma, my baby niece, my sister-in-law," Olga Ruiz, Miguel's sister, said as she loaded the family's two dogs into her sport utility vehicle, stopping to hug neighbors who cried in her arms. "Police have only told us that it is under investigation."

Peavy, an 11-year veteran of the homicide bureau, said: "It is a very, very, brutal, brutal murder.... I've never seen anything like it. We just don't have a clue as to what has occurred at this time.... It's just baffling."

Peavy said he was convinced that "this is a quadruple homicide. There is not a doubt in my mind about that." He added that the killings were "absolutely not a murder-suicide."

Investigators interviewed family members Saturday at a nearby sheriff's substation.

Late Saturday night, coroner's investigators were at the one-story, tan stucco house, which had icicle Christmas lights still hanging on it. Throughout the day, neighbors huddled on their porches in disbelief, some weeping and explaining to their children about the unfolding tragedy.

"I just straight-out told my daughter that the family had died," said Maria Cervantes, who lives next door and whose daughter attended school with Jasmine. "She was crushed this morning, and I just had to explain what tragedy means."

A silver minivan parked in the Ruizes' driveway sported a sticker from a nearby tattoo parlor, Electric Pencil, which is owned by Ruiz's friend, Mike Gutierrez, who last talked to his friend of nine years about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Ruiz worked two jobs, one as a stereo technician at Sound City in Maywood, and the other fixing computers in his home office, Gutierrez said.

Ruiz's wife also worked in the electronics business, selling audio equipment at a Pomona swap meet, often putting in long hours, sometimes six or seven days a week, neighbors said.

Gutierrez said he and Ruiz would typically chat a few times a day, with Ruiz often talking about how he had conquered his latest computer repair challenge

"It made his day when he was able to fix it," Gutierrez said. "He saw the relief in their [customers'] faces when he brought the computers back to life. He was like my mentor. I'm sure going to miss them [the family]. I'm just flabbergasted, I'm having a hard time understanding it."

Neighbors said Ruiz worked flexible hours so he could care for his grandmother, who had suffered a stroke, and take Jasmine to school. "He was always there for his daughter, like a Mr. Mom," said neighbor Lupe Rivera, 27.

Jasmine attended a second- and third-grade combination class at nearby McKibben Elementary School, and had been named student of the month several times.

Jasmine liked handball and soccer, and enjoyed roller skating nearly every day, neighbors said.

"She was like my own daughter," said neighbor Maria Cervantes, 33.

*

Times staff writers Cara Mia DiMassa and Michael Krikorian contributed to this report.

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