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It was the text of their lives

COLUMN ONE

A single insulting message set off a series of events that has devastated two families and a circle of friends in the Valley.

May 06, 2010|Robert Faturechi

It was the kind of text message many teenagers might send.

Mike Yepremyan, 19, wanted to see his girlfriend, but she was hanging out with another girl. So he sent her a pouty text with a nasty comment about her companion.

He hit send just after 5 p.m. on a Wednesday in November, triggering a series of events he could never have anticipated.

By 9 p.m., two families had been devastated and a circle of friends had been torn apart.

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When Mike wasn't in class at Pierce College or working as a dispatcher for a private ambulance company, he could usually be found with his closest buddies. At Los Angeles Baptist, the private high school in the San Fernando Valley where they met, they were known as the Middle Eastern kids.

Mike Yepremyan and Ohan Barsamian were Armenian. Ali Hosseini was Persian. They were a little louder than their classmates, a little more outgoing. For Valentine's Day one year, Mike borrowed money from his father to buy a long-stemmed rose for each of the 150 young ladies in their high school.

When their parents set the table for one of the boys, they could expect to find all three waiting to be fed. Sleepovers were the norm. So when Mike showed up unannounced at Ohan's house after work Nov. 18, no one was surprised.

All that was out of the ordinary was Mike's mood.

He and his girlfriend, Denielle Wegrzyn, were fighting, a rarity. Mike worshiped her, always admiring her long blond hair. And she was learning Armenian for him. After two years of dating, she'd picked up numbers and common expressions.

As the three teenagers discussed how to spend their night, Mike grumbled about a nasty exchange of text messages he'd just had with Denielle.

Those messages and the events that unfolded that night are described in court records and in testimony from a preliminary hearing. Ohan, Denielle and others offered further details in interviews with The Times.

Mike had hoped to see Denielle as soon as he got off work that night. He was disappointed to hear she was with Kat Vardanian. The two girls had met through mutual friends three months earlier. Mike didn't like Kat. He thought she dressed too provocatively, and he worried she might be a bad influence on his girlfriend, his friends said. Despite Mike's feelings, Denielle and Kat were growing closer.

They had met up with friends for dinner in Glendale earlier in the evening. To avoid rush-hour traffic, they decided to kill time at a tobacco lounge in Burbank, a delay Denielle explained to Mike via text message. The girls were parked at a gas station in Kat's pearl-white Infiniti when Mike's response lit up Denielle's iPhone, tucked in the cup holder:

"Every time u hang out with that bitch u guys get hookah. Is there something cool bout her n hookah that u enjoy so much?"

In interviews and in courtroom testimony, Denielle described what happened next:

Kat peered at the phone's screen.

"Oh, I'm a bitch, huh?" she snapped.

Denielle tried to calm her, but Kat grew irate. She grabbed Denielle's phone and scrolled down to Mike's number.

"My brother is gonna beat him up," she said, according to Denielle's testimony.

Kat picked up her own phone and dialed her sibling, Hovik Dzhuryan, switching to Armenian when he picked up. The words were incomprehensible to Denielle, until the end of the call.

" Oot mek oot," Kat said, according to Denielle. "818." Denielle knew how to count in Armenian. Kat was reciting Mike's phone number.

Alarmed, Denielle asked to be dropped off at her car, parked at Kat's house in Van Nuys. Once home, she sent Mike a text.

"This night is so sad n now I'm home alone."

Mike's response frightened her.

"If by 12 u don't hear from me ... call the cops to cats house," he wrote. "Just in case ... but I promise nothing will happen."

Ali and Ohan paid little attention to Mike's spat with his girlfriend. They left him at Ali's house in Granada Hills while they filled up at a nearby gas station. There, they got a call from Mike.

"I'm gonna get in a fight," he said. "Just come back and I'll explain."

The two rushed back. Mike looked pale. He said Kat's brother had called and said he wanted to fight, according to his friends.

The three piled into Mike's car and began driving around aimlessly. The headlights on his gray Nissan Altima led them down Balboa Boulevard in Granada Hills and Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys. They talked about how to handle the mess Mike had created. The calls to Mike's phone continued, but the voice on the other end no longer belonged to Kat's brother. It was deeper and more confrontational.

"Don't you know who I am?" the caller barked. "You never heard of me?"

"No, who are you?" Mike responded.

The call was cut off.

Then the phone rang again.

"OK, what you say right now is gonna determine what happens to you," the voice said. "Do you have any proof about why she's a bitch?"

"I don't want to offend you," Mike replied.

"Do you have any proof?" the voice asked.

"Yeah, I do," Mike said hesitantly.

The line went silent again.

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