A Pico Rivera family was torn apart on Sunday after a 13-year-old girl was killed and her younger brother was seriously injured in a violent carjacking that happened while their parents were buying food at a business nearby.
At about 2:05 p.m. Sunday, the family of six stopped at La Mano Tortilleria, located at 9237 Whittier Blvd., and four children — ages 18, 13, 11 and 8 — were left in the back seats of their van with the engine running and air conditioning on while their parents went into the business to buy food, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported in news release.
Sheriff’s Lt. Barry Hall said when the suspect, who has been identified as 26-year-old Jose Elias Aguilar, saw no one in the front seat he “jumped in” while the couple’s children were still inside.
Once taking control of the van, Aguilar allegedly yelled at the children in Spanish to get out, but drove off at a high rate of speed before they were able to.
“The 18-year-old daughter fought with the suspect briefly and then she came out of the van,” Hall said at a news conference Sunday, explaining Aguilar had allegedly sped westbound down Whittier Boulevard.
“The doors were open. Because he accelerated, both doors came open on the van,” Hall said. “She got pushed out of the van or jumped out of the van. As did her 11-year-old brother.”
They received only minor injuries but their two siblings remained inside the van with the suspect, according to Hall.
When the vehicle reached the intersection of Deland Avenue and Whittier Boulevard, the 8-year-old boy was “forcefully ejected” out of the van as it drove between 45 and 50 mph, the Sheriff’s Department said. The boy suffered major injuries and was taken to a local hospital.
The van continued driving about 55 to 60 mph along Whittier and second later the 13-year-old girl was ejected at the intersection of Lindsey Avenue and Whittier Boulevard. LASD officials said the girl “struck a stationary object” and died at the scene.
Her family and the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station later identified her as Isabella Cortes.
Aguilar continued driving westbound on Whittier until he reached Rosemead Avenue, where the van crashed into another vehicle and then continued driving north on Rosemead for another 3 miles, Hall said.
Eventually, the van stalled in El Monte on Rosemead Boulevard, south of San Gabriel Boulevard. At that point, sheriff’s officials said Aguilar ran toward Whittier Narrows Recreational Area. He tried to steal another car from a man whose wife and child were inside, but the driver fought with Aguilar for about 100 yards and ended when that car crashed into a nearby bridge.
“The dad who was trying to buy the fruit, jumps back into the car, chokes the guy out, and that’s when the fruit guys came up and helped him pull (the suspect) out of the car,” Hall said. “And I believe they actually tied him up and detained him for the deputies.”
Aguilar, of Los Angeles, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. He was arrested on suspicion of murder, kidnapping and carjacking, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
He was recently arrested and released on zero bail for felony possession of a dirk or dagger and vandalism, according to authorities.
A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Cortes’ funeral had raised more than $7,000 in the four hours after it was set up Monday. The page’s author described the teen as beautiful, down-to-Earth and a risk-taker.
“Isabella was the light of the house,” they wrote. “Isabella was still to young she had so much to look for. But now she is up in heaven looking down on us and taking care of us.”
Loved ones gathered near where she died Monday evening, bringing photos, flowers, balloons and candles to leave on the sidewalk.
“Nobody was ready to say goodbye to her just yet. She was just starting her life,” said Arianna Salazar, a friend of Cortes. She described the 13-year-old as funny, smart and nice.
The girls were both in band at North Park Academy of the Arts in Pico Rivera. Cortes had recently graduated from the middle school.
Salazar said it was a “normal day” for her friend’s family before the young girl’s life was suddenly taken. “They didn’t think anything would happen if they just go inside for few minutes just to get food.”