The young men who were charged with killing two teen girls in a Montecito Heights park knew their victims and were "motivated by hatred between gangs," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.
The defendants were identified in a five-count criminal complaint against them as 17-year-old Dallas Stone Pineda, also known as "Trippy," and 18-year-old Jose Antonio Echeverria, aka "Klepto."
They knew their victims, Briana Nicole Gallegos, 17, and Gabriela Calzada, 19, Beck said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"This is a case that’s gang motivated," Beck said. "These victims were brutally murdered. They were known to the suspects who committed the murder. They were also specifically targeted by those suspects."
In response to multiple questions, Beck would not say if the victims were also members of a gang. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Calzada had in Glassell Park been a youth leader in Summer Night Lights, a seasonal city program intended to help young people in areas affected by gang violence.
"She had committed herself to turning her life around," Garcetti said.
One of the victims was shot and both were bludgeoned, Beck said. They were killed in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park on Oct. 27, he said. A day later, their bodies were found by a dog-walker near a hiking trail in the hilly, sprawling park.
Echeverria allegedly used a rifle to kill Calzada, according to the complaint.
"It was a horrific scene that the men and women of this Police Department took very personally," Beck said.
Dozens of detectives were assigned to the killings, which occurred in the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollenbeck Division, Beck said. The department's elite Robbery-Homicide Division took over the case in late November.
Hollenbeck will maintain maximum patrols in Debs Park, which area residents have said is a site for crime, Beck said.
“The people of Montecito Heights have no reason to fear that park," Beck said.
In addition to two counts of murder, Echeverria was also charged with attempted murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle in an unrelated incident. The attempted murder victim — who was targeted Jan. 29, according to the complaint — was identified only as John Doe.
In another count, Echeverria was charged with bringing contraband into the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center on Jan. 30. He allegedly brought in a controlled substance and paraphernalia for injecting it.
Echeverria and Pineda, who was charged as an adult, appeared in court in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, but their arraignment was postponed till March 8.
They were ordered held without bail.
Echeverria could face the death penalty, if prosecutors decide to seek it. Because of his age, Pineda is not eligible for the death penalty but faces up to life in prison.
Echeverria had been arrested early Nov. 7 by LAPD’s Rampart Division and released about 9:30 p.m. the following day, inmate records show. He was rearrested late Friday, Jan. 29, by LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division and has been in custody since then.
Several people were detained for questioning when police served search warrants in connection with the killings in mid-November, but no one was arrested at the time.
Then, on Wednesday, Pineda's mother told KTLA that her son had been questioned about a week after the victims' bodies were found. She said her son was initially ruled out as a suspect after he gave police a DNA sample, but was arrested on Tuesday as he got off the school bus, she said.
"All I've got to say is, he's innocent," she said.
The woman said her son was friends with both victims, and had dated Briana on and off for about two years. He was devastated upon learning they had been found dead in the park last year, she recalled.
“He sat here with tears, my son, where I was sitting her with him, comforting him. And he was like, ‘Why mom? Her life hasn’t even started.’”
After his arrest, Pineda was transferred to a juvenile detention facility in Sylmar, according to his mother, who spoke with him over the phone after he was taken into custody. She has not seen him since.
"Don't you think he needs his mom beside him?" she said Wednesday.