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Director John Upton killed by neighbor during dispute, police say

March 30, 2013|By Tony Perry | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

ENCINITAS -- Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker John Upton was fatally shot by a neighbor in what appears to be some type of property dispute, authorities said.

Upton's body was found Thursday morning outside his home in the Olivenhain section of this upscale San Diego County community.

“My brother was shot 30 feet from his front door by a guy with a concealed weapon,” Michael Upton told KSWB-TV News. “He was a good brother, a good father, a good humanitarian.

Michael Vilkin, 61, was booked Thursday into county jail on a charge of murder in the death of Upton, 56.

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.

[Updated 10:51 a.m. March 30: In a jailhouse interview with KGTV-TV, Vilkin said he shot Upton in self-defense. He said the filmmaker, angry that Vilkin was trimming trees on his own property that provided shade and privacy for Upton's property, pulled a gun.]

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 the orphans were living under 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 the U.S. 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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