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$10,000 Reward Offered in Slayings at State Beach

January attack near Oxnard left two men dead and a woman wounded. Authorities believe a transient is responsible.

June 03, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Every day, Silvia Vasquez struggles with memories of the attack that left her critically wounded and two others dead.

The soft-spoken Salvadoran housekeeper, her boyfriend and a friend were shot by a stranger they met as they walked along Pacific Coast Highway near Oxnard on Jan. 26. Vasquez spent several weeks recovering from multiple wounds to her abdomen and back.

Surrounded by law enforcement officials at a news conference Monday, Vasquez asked for justice for her deceased friends and joined with authorities in announcing a $10,000 reward for information leading to the man police believe is responsible for the shootings.

Speaking softly in Spanish, Vasquez, 29, begged anyone with information about the attack to come forward. Though she survived, the event has changed her forever, she said.

"This has affected me very deeply," said the Newbury Park woman. "I need and want justice to be done because I lost someone who I loved very deeply."

Francisco Orellana Miranda, 36, and Levi Angel Orellana, 32, were killed and Vasquez wounded as they walked back to their car after spending the day at Sycamore Cove State Beach south of Oxnard.

Vasquez's boyfriend, Miranda, originally from Honduras, was employed as a maintenance man. Orellana, from El Salvador, had lived in the United States for two years and was a gardener. Both lived in Newbury Park. They were not related.

Late in the afternoon, a tall white man sitting on a bench nearby approached Miranda and asked for two cigarettes, according to Vasquez. A short time later, the three friends were walking along an embankment to their car when the man opened fire, said Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks.

"Nothing happened to provoke the shooting," Brooks said. "As Francisco was falling [after the shooting], he was staring at her and asking why."

The beach outing was her boyfriend's small way of making her happy on her only day off, she said after the news conference. She was holding his hand when she felt him drop at her side. An instant later, she was hit from behind and fell back. She remembers the killer standing over her and shooting again, she said.

Vasquez is still not sure how many times she was shot, but she said there are still three bullets lodged in her stomach and one in her back.

"I'm in better health now, but emotionally, it's a different story," she said.

The slayings have stumped police because the killer did not know the victims and had no apparent motive. The suspect is probably a vagrant who roams the California coastline, officials said.

"We don't know what his mental capacity is or if he had a grudge against a certain type of people or if he just had the urge to kill people," said Det. Ernie Montagna of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

But less than two hours after the slayings, the killer gave police a major clue when he approached another man near the scene and asked for a cigarette. In a thick Southern accent, he told the man he was walking to the city of Hayward.

That cigarette and the one at the shooting scene were found, and DNA was obtained from the evidence, Montagna said. Investigators are checking state and federal DNA systems for matches, he said.

The suspect is described as a thin white male in his late 20s or early 30s, weighing 160 to 170 pounds and about 5-feet-9 to 6 feet tall. He is probably a transient, who carries a dark backpack with a bedroll attached, authorities said.

The Sheriff's Department is contributing $5,000 toward the reward fund, with the other half coming from the Carole Sund-Carrington Foundation, established after the 1999 slayings of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli,15, and their Argentine friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, near Yosemite National Park. Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at 477-7035.

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