Authorities said Wednesday that they have solved the 6-month-old mystery surrounding a 30-year-old sheriff's deputy who was found fatally shot and slumped over her car in the driveway of a Long Beach home.
Despite months of speculation that she might have shot herself or been killed because of some issue involving work, detectives said she was the victim of a random attack by two men who tried to steal her purse as she was about to leave a quiet residential neighborhood for work.
Sources close to the investigation said detectives connected the dots in part thanks to tips from the public, as well as DNA evidence found on an abandoned bicycle recovered a few blocks from the home.
Authorities said the two men approached Maria Rosa and demanded her purse as she was getting into her car about 6 a.m. March 28. She refused and pulled out her service revolver. But the gun jammed, possibly because of a mechanical problem, or fell to the ground, according to several sources who spoke on the condition that they not be named.
One of the men then reportedly pulled out a .22-caliber handgun and shot Rosa once in the torso. A newspaper deliveryman found her a few minutes later, slumped over the car's trunk.
The slaying prompted much confusion and theorizing. At first, officials believed that Rosa had accidentally shot herself. But when ballistic tests proved that scenario inaccurate and found that the bullet that killed her came from another gun, there was speculation that the crime was tied to the work of Rosa or the deputy who owned the home she was leaving that morning.
Now, Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday, it's clear that Rosa was the victim of random violence.
He said the two men had allegedly been casing a nearby bank, apparently looking for victims who were using the ATM. They happened to ride their bicycles along the 2900 block of Eucalyptus Avenue as Rosa was leaving for work.
Prosecutors on Wednesday formally charged Frank Christopher Gonzales, 26, and Justin Ashley Flint, 20, with one count each of murder and attempted second-degree robbery.
Also charged were Gonzales' girlfriend, Jessica Rowan, and his sister, Selena Gonzales, who are accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice by providing investigators with a false alibi.
"This woman's promise was taken away by the suspects we have arrested today," Baca said. "There's no justice in murder, there's only accountability."
Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts said Rosa, who was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt at the time, "could have been any woman going to work in the early hours."
Within minutes of authorities' being alerted and the discovery of Rosa's body, officers swarmed the area and conducted house-to-house searches.
A security video from a nearby bank captured blurry images of two men in hooded sweatshirts riding bicycles in the area about half an hour before the shooting.
A witness in the neighborhood also reported seeing two men on Eucalyptus minutes before Rosa was killed.
And minutes after the killing, another person reported seeing someone fleeing after abandoning a children's bike near the crime scene.
The sources said DNA found on the bike matched that of one suspect.
Gonzales and Flint appeared Wednesday in a Long Beach courtroom packed with Sheriff's Department personnel, who stared down the suspects.
Formal arraignment for the pair in the potential death penalty case was postponed until Oct. 28.
Rosa was born in Sonora, Mexico, and grew up in Gilroy, Calif., before attending Long Beach City College.
Known for her bright smile and enthusiasm, she had been a dental assistant before joining the Sheriff's Department in 2000.
But friends said she was also tough, a trait that stemmed from losing both parents when she was 13.
Rosa lived in Pomona but was staying at the home of Det. Jenny Martin, a narcotics investigator in the Compton sheriff's station, the day she was killed.