Man Initially Arrested on Animal Cruelty Charges Named as Suspect in Valley Shootings

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A 34-year-old man initially arrested on suspicion of shooting two dogs was named Monday evening as a suspect in a San Fernando Valley shooting spree that left three people dead, authorities said.

Police responded to a second shooting on Aug. 24, 2014, that left a 29-year-old man dead in Sylmar. (Credit: OnSceneTV)

Police responded to a second shooting on Aug. 24, 2014, that left a 29-year-old man dead in Sylmar. (Credit: OnSceneTV)

Alexander Hernandez was arrested Sunday night on suspicion of animal cruelty, and police initially only considered him a "person of interest" in the three homicides, according to Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andy Smith.

Nonetheless, Hernandez's bail was set at $1 million, a steep amount for the alleged shooting of two dogs. Later Monday, Smith confirmed that Hernandez was a suspect in the shootings based on the type of weapon and ammunition used.

In addition to the San Fernando spree, Hernandez was also being called a "person of interest" in two earlier shootings that occurred last week, one in Atwater Village on Wednesday, and another on Thursday in Pacoima, according to Smith.

"We're going to go back and look at all the previous cases that have any kind of similarity to this and determine his involvement, if any, in any of those cases," Smith said.

Late Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced that a Friday night car-to-car shooting in West Hollywood could be linked to the San Fernando Valley shootings.

In the West Hollywood case, a gold or tan SUV, similar to one described in the Valley incidents, was following the victims through Hollywood and then onto Gardner Street about 11 p.m. Friday when the male Hispanic driver opened fire on the victims' vehicle.

The victims were not injured by the three shotgun rounds, but a rear window was blown out and the rear bed of the truck was damaged, according to the Sheriff's Department. Investigators were working with LAPD in examining similarities to the shootings Hernandez was suspected in.

Hernandez was detained in Sylmar without incident by SWAT officers at a home in the 13700 block of Kismet Avenue (map) at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday following a barricade situation, according to LAPD Capt. William Hayes.

Hayes said the individual was taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries.

The detention came after a daylong investigation that began when officers discovered that a family of five had been shot at inside their SUV in the 1400 block of Celis Street (map) around 5:50 a.m., police said.

When officers arrived, they found a woman had died and four others were injured, according to an LAPD news release.

The family had been on their way to church when they were attacked, police said. The church was less than half a mile from where they were shot.

“I heard shots…and I looked out the window, and then I saw a man right there that was bleeding," said Pauline Gaitain, who lives in the area. “The SUV went right by and they shot them. So they took her out, poor thing…she was dead.”

The deceased woman, who was wheelchair-bound, was identified by neighbors as Mariana Franco.

Police have said the woman killed was 20-year-old. However, the L.A. County Coroner's office later stated the victim was 23.

The woman’s parents, Jose and Beatriz Franco, were also struck by gunfire and were critically injured. Neighbors said they had planned to pick up a friend before attending a 6:30 a.m. Mass at Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church, where Jose Franco worked. The family was very active in the church, friends said.

The couple's two other children were in the SUV and sustained minor injuries.

Jose Franco remained in critical condition on Monday, said Natasha Shows, who is with Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.

His wife was in stable but guarded condition, Shows added.

The second shooting was reported roughly 45 minutes later. LAPD officers from the Mission Division responded to reports of gunfire at the Sylmar Recreational Center in the 13000 block of Borden Avenue (map) and discovered a Hispanic man had been shot, according to the release.

The unidentified 29-year-old man was collecting bottles and cans at the recreation center when he was gunned down in the parking lot.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The third victim, a 50-year-old Hispanic woman, was found with a gunshot wound to the head around 6:45 a.m. in the 12900 block of Fillmore Street (map). She also died at the scene.

The woman was later identified as 59-year-old Gloria Esperanza Tobar, friends and neighbors told the L.A. Times.

Tobar, who was shot while sitting in her car outside church, would take disabled and elderly people to Mass, the Times reported.

Authorities have not yet confirmed the identities of any of the shooting victims.

Police initially said they were looking for two men in connection with the shootings. However, Hayes later said he could not say for sure whether a second person was involved.

Smith said they believed the gunman in all five shootings acted alone.

KTLA's Melissa Pamer and John A. Moreno contributed to this report.

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