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Vista man arrested in slaying of filmmaker John Upton

March 29, 2013|By Tony Perry

ENCINITAS -- A Vista man has been arrested in the shooting death of an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker best known for his work involving the plight of orphans in Romania.

Michael Vilkin, 61, was booked Thursday into county jail on a charge of murder in the death of John Upton, 56. While the Sheriff's Department has not revealed a motive, the shooting may have resulted from a property dispute.

Upton's body was found Thursday morning outside of his home in the Olivenhain section of this upscale San Diego County community. Vilkin reportedly owns a vacant lot next to the Upton family home.

Upton was killed by "an apparent gunshot wound," the Sheriff's Department said. Vilkin was arrested hours later and is set for arraignment Tuesday.

Upton won an Emmy Award in 1990 for an after-school special on teenage promiscuity. After seeing a segment that same year about Romanian orphans on ABC's "20/20," Upton decided to help publicize the brutal conditions of the orphans and bring as many as possible to America.

Four days later he was in Bucharest meeting with government officials.

"There just wasn't any doubt in my mind that I could do something, that I could make a difference with these kids," Upton told The Times in 1990. "But I didn't waste much time thinking about it, I just went."

Upton was instrumental in bringing an estimated two dozen of the orphans to America for medical care and adoption.

"I went in there with the attitude of the angry American," Upton told The Times, "someone who was going to right the wrongs he found. I expected heartless officials and corruption. But that's not what I found at all. I found people who wanted to act but were handicapped by a lack of resources."

In recent years, Upton had focused on social problems in the U.S. and people working to correct them, including problems of the aged, the abused and the handicapped.

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Twitter: @LATsandiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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