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Police seek aid to track a killer

A South Gate woman was having dinner with her fiance and two children when she was shot to death, possibly in a robbery attempt.

June 02, 2007|Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writer

Police asked for the public's help Friday in identifying the killer of a South Gate woman gunned down in front of two of her children this week after buying tacos near Gage Avenue and the Harbor Freeway.

Karina Michel, 31, a legal secretary, had gone out to a quick dinner with her family Tuesday at a taco stand in the 6200 block of Main Street in the LAPD's Newton Division. Nilda Michel, her former mother-in-law and grandmother of one of those children, related events preceding the crime:

Karina Michel was with her fiance, Manuel Figueroa, and two of her children, she said. Her 11-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son said they didn't want to eat tacos. Michel had given in and taken them to a McDonald's nearby, then rejoined her fiance at the taco stand.

The family sat together to eat. The little boy grew cold. He and his sister went to wait in the car. Karina Michel was carrying the rest of their dinner to them and had just set sodas on the hood of the car.

She reached into her purse for the keys. Her daughter, Briana, reached across to unlock the driver's side door for her.

A single assailant walked up, possibly intent on robbing Karina Michel, detectives said. There was gunfire.

Briana saw a flash of blood, then saw her mother fall, according to the grandmother. She ducked into the back of the car, pressing her brother's head down.

Afterward, Figueroa coaxed the children out of the other side of the car so they would not see their mother's body near the curb. But Briana saw anyway, her grandmother said.

At Friday's news conference, City Councilwoman Jan Perry announced a $50,000 reward for information from witnesses. "One of the hardest things I have to do is convince people in other parts of the city that this impacts them," she said.

Karina Michel's brother, Cesar Arredondo, 34, pleaded for witnesses to come forward. Briana also spoke briefly, repeating her uncle's remark. Then she took a breath, gripped the microphone and added in a low voice: "Please."

Briana described her mother as a redhead who rushed to get her children to school on time every morning, sometimes honking her horn with impatience, and who sang songs with them in the car.

Karina Michel was a "strong character" who talked frequently about her children and their future, her brother said.

Figueroa was so distraught after the shooting that he required medical treatment. He stood in the back of the room during the news conference, clinging to a door frame and frequently covering his face with his hands.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call Det. Richard Arciniega at (323) 846-6556 or after hours at (323) 846-6553 or (877) 529-3855.

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jill.leovy@latimes.com

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