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Teacher Is Arrested in Slaying

Long Beach man is accused in the beating and stabbing of his girlfriend. He turns himself in and seeks treatment for wounds.

October 29, 2002|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

A Spanish teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School was arrested Monday night on suspicion of fatally beating and stabbing his 19-year-old girlfriend, a recent graduate of the Long Beach school.

Pedro Tepoz Leon, 34, was wounded and bleeding when he pulled behind an officer on Interstate 80 near Vacaville and asked for help. Leon, suffering stab wounds in the neck and upper torso, told the officer that he had been involved in an assault in Long Beach, said Long Beach police spokeswoman Jana Blair.

Police had been searching Monday for Leon in connection with the death of Mayra Mora in their apartment in the 1900 block of East 1st Street in Long Beach.

The officer in Vacaville contacted Long Beach police, who instructed the officer to arrest Leon, who later was in stable condition at a hospital. Blair said police did not know how he was stabbed. "It's unclear if the stab wound came during the assault or was self-inflicted," she said.

Police learned of Mora's death after responding to an emergency call placed about 8 p.m. Sunday by a possible witness at the apartment building. Mora had suffered blunt force trauma to the body and stab wounds to the torso.

"It appeared as though the crime had been committed sometime between Friday and Sunday," police spokeswoman Nancy Pratt said. "Detectives believe Leon is the person responsible for her death."

As a high school senior last year, Mora was a member of the school's Latin American Club, which was co-sponsored by Leon. Both teacher and student were described as easygoing and popular.

Mora, who graduated from Wilson High in June, was an active member of the beginning dance club, the Latino Club and Senior Women. Fellow students remembered her as outgoing and upbeat.

Kimi Ballestan, 16, who was in an English class with Mora, recalled that "she really cared about her grades." "For me, she was wonderful," she said. "She was always trying to lift our spirits when we were feeling down."

Leon was described as having an easy rapport with students. One student, who did not want to be named, described Leon as "cool." "We'd go to his house and hang out."

Brenden Burley, 17, agreed and added that "he's kind of like a teacher -- and a student. He acted like one of us."

The Long Beach Police Department had dispatched an advisory notifying law enforcement agencies across the nation that they are looking for Leon and his SUV.

"We're characterizing it as domestic violence," Blair said, "but we don't know what set off the assault."

School officials said Leon failed to show up for work Friday and Monday.

"He was a no call, no show," Assistant Principal Sandra Blazer said. "We called his home to find out why he had not come to work, and there was no answer."

Blazer's duties Monday included counseling teachers at the 4,330-student campus who were distraught over the news.

Long Beach Unified School District spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said, "We are deeply saddened."

"Everybody hopes it's not true, that maybe there is something else we need to know about all this," he said. "But right now, it doesn't look good."

Van Der Laan added, "We are cooperating fully with the Police Department in their investigation."

Leon, who joined the school district in 1996, taught first- and second-grade bilingual education courses at King Elementary School.

He then moved to Wilson High, where he taught Spanish for two years on a temporary contract basis, Blazer said. Leon has been a regular Spanish teacher since 2001.

"Last year, he was a boys soccer coach on an extra assignment basis," Blazer said, "and the year before that a girls soccer coach.

"We've not had any complaints about him. Our performance evaluations indicate that he was a satisfactory teacher."

It was not immediately clear when Leon began a relationship with Mora. Neither school officials nor students interviewed Monday were aware of the intimacy between the two.

The apartment they rented is on a tidy, tree-lined street near a park. "They moved in about three months ago," said a tenant who lives a few doors down.

"They didn't have much," said the tenant, who declined to be named. "I saw them take in a futon, a computer and a television. We didn't know much about them until the police came to our door Sunday night."

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