A missing 22-year-old Los Angeles man whose fiancee described him as a witness in a high-profile criminal case was found Friday afternoon, police and his family said.
Darwin Vela had last been seen at home in the 2900 block of South Redondo Boulevard (map) in the West Adams neighborhood. He told his fiancee he was going out to walk their chocolate lab.
Some 15 minutes later, the dog returned alone with what fiancee Kelly McLaren said appeared to be blood on its leash.
On Friday afternoon, Vela called his mother and said he was at a Los Angeles Police Department station, McLaren said.
Police confirmed that Vela had been located at 1:30 p.m. within LAPD’s Pacific Division, stating in a news release that “investigators are now going through the process of determining what happened to him.”
An officer at the department’s Pacific Station in the Del Rey neighborhood told McLaren and Vela’s mother that the young man was “bruised” but fine.
Vela told investigators he was kidnapped by three men wearing black clothing and black gloves and taken to a warehouse where he was beaten, an LAPD source confirmed to KTLA.
Earlier Friday, LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese told the Los Angeles Times it was “too early to draw conclusions” about the bloody leash, even though it may sound “suspicious.”
“Is it fresh blood? Has it been there for a long time? … Is it the dog’s blood? Is it his blood? There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” he said. “It’s something we’re looking at.”
Investigators were looking at Vela’s movements before disappearing and “his lifestyle,” The Times reported.
Vela was scheduled to testify against a suspected burglar who broke into the home owned by actor Nicolas Cage’s ex-girlfriend, McLaren said. She believes Vela’s disappearance is linked to that upcoming testimony.
“We were witnesses to … a crime,” McLaren said.
During a Thursday preliminary hearing in the case of Ricardo Orozco, accused of breaking into the home of Cage’s ex-girlfriend Christina Fulton, a detective said that one of the items stolen was computer with a video of actor Charlie Sheen, TMZ reported. The video is a “sex tape,” the website stated, citing “law enforcement sources.”
On Friday, McLaren would not comment on the specifics of TMZ’s reporting.
“I am staying away from TMZ because I do not the emotional strength or capacity right now to even try and understand what that is about,” McLaren said Friday. “They did quote him as a suspect, which is not true … We were subpoenaed as witnesses, I can say that, but … that is the extent of our involvement.”
Before he vanished, Vela’s keys and wallet were left at the home, McLaren said. It’s not like him to disappear, she said.
Vela’s family and Los Angeles Police Department’s Missing Person’s Unit detectives are asking for help finding him.
Vela was described as a Hispanic male with black hair and brown eyes, 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing around 160 pounds. He was last seen wearing a dark green beanie, black shirt and blue jeans.
He has the word “freedom” tattooed on his forearm, McLaren said.
Anyone with information about Darwin is asked to contact Detective Merrill at 213-996-1800 or RACR, 213-484-6700.
During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 877-527-3247. Those wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. Tipsters may also contact Crime Stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cellphone, beginning with the letters “LAPD.” Tipsters may also go to www.LAPDOnline.org click on “webtips” and follow the prompts.
KTLA’s Kacey Montoya and Kimberly Cheng contributed to this report.