Authorities announced a $20,000 reward on Thursday as they asked for help finding the person who fatally shot a 15-year-old girl as she waited with friends for a party to start in an unincorporated part of Covina last month.
Karla Villa, a sophomore at Baldwin Park High School, was hanging out with a group of teenagers on the sidewalk of the 4500 block of North Heathdale Avenue on the night of Jan. 6 when the shooting occurred, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Villa had been waiting for a "social media event" to begin in the Charter Oak community when a vehicle slowed and shots were fired, resulting in a chaotic scene, sheriff's Capt. Chris Bergner said at a Thursday morning news conference.
The gunfire struck the teen in the head, fatally wounding her in front of her friends, according to the caption. Villa was taken to a local hospital where she died the next day.
Authorities do not believe she was the intended target, saying Villa was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“She was standing there on her cellphone and completely random, completely innocent victim," Investigator Aiden Torres said at the news conference. "She just happened to be in the way of the shots that were fired.”
Neighbors on Heathdale Avenue recalled hearing a flurry of gunfire shortly before 10 p.m. that night. Investigators initially thought those shots were fired from a black SUV, but new evidence suggested the bullets were fired from the curb, perhaps not far from where Villa was sitting.
According to Torres, 10 to 12 teens were standing near the victim at the time.
“We’re unsure about the drive-by, we don’t have any solid information that black SUV actually fired," he said. "It could be, if witnesses come forward and tell us different … but from what we’ve learned, it’s definitely somebody on the street, somebody on foot.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the teen's killer.
“A young girl who had her life dreams, she wanted to become a nurse to help others, and to have dreams of traveling and having a good life, and all of a sudden her life is taken away," Supervisor Hilda Solis said at the news conference, which was also attended by the victim's grief-stricken mother.
Wiping away tears at times, her voice choked with emotion, Guadalupe Villa said in Spanish that it wasn’t easy for her to be there. She clutched her daughter's favorite stuffed animal as she pleaded with anyone who has information about the homicide to come forward.
Through an interpreter, she said she wanted the killer to understand the pain the girl's death has brought her family, which includes the Villa's three younger daughters and an adult son.
“I don’t cry in front of them,” the mother said. “I have to be strong and not let them see me suffering.”
Anyone with information is urged to call the Sheriff's Department's Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Anonymous tips can also be left by calling L.A. Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.