Three Hawthorne-area mortuaries were burglarized in recent days, and two men have been arrested in connection with one of them, officials said Tuesday.
The first incident happened Feb. 6 at McKay’s South Bay Mortuary in the 3900 block of Marine Avenue in Lawndale, according to the business and Hawthorne Police Department.
The agency received a report of a burglary that happened earlier that morning, and McKay’s provided video that suggested the perpetrators committed the crime between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Officers took a report, police said.
Among the items stolen were several Buddhist artifacts, some made of gold, that were a key part of many services there, said Mark McKay, the mortuary’s owner.
“It was heart-wrenching,” he said. “To me, it’s worse than breaking into a church.”
Tren Nguyen, the business’ Vietnamese counselor, said he spent 17 years collecting the items and they have a deep emotional value for Vietnamese families holding services there.
“If they don’t have that, they feel like the services doesn’t mean anything to them,” Nguyen told KTLA.
Three days after the McKay’s burglary, at about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, Hawthorne police responded to a report of a burglary in progress at a mortuary in the 13800 block of Hawthorne Boulevard in Hawthorne — about 1 1/2 miles away from the first business. Police said they confirmed that a burglary had occurred, but the people responsible had already fled.
Citing the previous incident, the officers “decided to conduct a security check” on another mortuary about a mile away in the 4200 block of Broadway Avenue in Hawthorne. They arrived at around 3:15 a.m. and found two people inside the business using flashlights, according to the Police Department.
The officers “contained the building” until two men exited into the parking lot, authorities said. They ordered the two to stop. While one of them complied, the other allegedly tried to run, according to police.
Police said they managed to apprehend both and identified them as 39-year-old Elias Dominguez and 26-year-old Edwin Jimenez — both of whom are transient.
Detectives are searching for a third suspect and investigating whether the men are connected to the other burglaries, the Police Department said.
Like other funeral homes, staff at McKay’s have been working around the clock during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our caseload and workload has doubled,” McKay said. “We have 70 human remains just at this location in our care right now.”
With workers typically on site at all hours of the day, McKay said someone could have easily been around during the break-in.
“We could have walked into them, and then what would have happened?” he asked. “These are very dangerous individuals. If they came into a funeral home, in the dark, they were prepared to do harm.”
McKay says his business has tightened security, and he ensured family members that their loved ones’ remains are safe and undisturbed. His funeral home is also offering a $10,000 reward for an arrest and conviction in the case, he told KTLA.