In what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck described as a “gruesome” scene, three boys were found dead Wednesday in an SUV in South L.A. and their father, who was also in the vehicle and was wounded, was suspected of killing them.
Officers and firefighters responded to the 300 block of East 32nd Street in the Historic South-Central neighborhood at 6:49 a.m. and discovered the four occupants in the vehicle, according to Los Angeles Police Department officials.
The children were found by local businessman John Sorrentino, who described the scene as a “pretty difficult sight.”
“The one boy I saw face to face,” Sorrentino said. “He had blood all over him.”
At a midday news conference, Beck said the victims were all boys aged 8 to 12. They were found with stab wounds in the rear seat of the SUV, he said.
The victims’ names were not being released pending family notification, but relatives who gathered at a small vigil identified the children as Alex, Juan and Luis.
“I walked over toward the vehicle and I saw an individual slumped in the seat,” Sorrentino said. “As I started to get a little bit closer I saw blood all over him.”
A man seated in the front of the vehicle also had stab wounds and was hospitalized, Beck said. He was believed to be the father of the boys, Beck said.
The chief initially would not say if the wounded man was believed to have killed the boys, but he emphasized that a suspect was in custody and said there was no danger to the public.
LAPD Officer Matthew Ludwig later confirmed the man was the boys’ father and he was suspected in the children’s death. The man, identified by relatives as Luis Fuentes, remained hospitalized Wednesday evening in stable condition. He had not been booked, according to LAPD Officer Liliana Preciado.
An official with LAPD’s Media Relations Section stated earlier that the man had been critically wounded.
“These are horrific incidents,” Beck said. “These are incidents that scar not only a community but the first responders. … It is a sad day in Los Angeles.”
Beck said he would not provide details on the case, which police described as a triple homicide. A knife was recovered at the scene, according to Beck.
The vehicle, a silver Nissan SUV, was parked across the street from Dolores Huerta Elementary School, aerial video showed. The crime scene appeared to be facing the back side of the campus.
The boys were not students at the school, but were enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Beck said.
The boys’ biological mother died several years ago, family members told KTLA. Until recently, the boys lived with their father, stepmother and a younger sibling. The stepmother was at work at the time of the killings, and the youngest child was in daycare, according to police. Neither were injured.
Local pastor, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez told KTLA that the father was unemployed and that he and his sons were living in the SUV.
“Times are tough for everybody, that’s not an excuse to do anything to three children who can’t defend themselves,” said family friend Ari Girona.
Grief-stricken relatives placed candles, toys and pictures at the site where the children were found and tried to console each other.
Some family members even brought the boys their favorite snacks.
“What can prepare you for three little kids that you spent every Christmas with … being killed that way,” said cousin Rene Chanquin.
Police activity in the 4000 block of Woodlawn Avenue that occurred around 8 a.m. was related to the incident, Ludwig said, but he was unsure of the connection.
A neighbor of the Woodlawn Avenue home said she babysat for the boys while their father was at work. The woman said the boys lived in an apartment around the corner and appeared to have a good relationship with their father.
“They were happy. They were like, ‘Daddy! My daddy came!'” she said.
KTLA’s Alberto Mendez and Jennifer Thang contributed to this story.