Two adults and two young children were found dead inside a van parked in a CVS Pharmacy parking lot near a busy intersection in Garden Grove Thursday evening.
Police were sent to the 12000 block of Brookhurst Street about 8:30 p.m. after a woman walking in the parking lot noticed a strong odor coming from a white Honda van, the Garden Grove Police Department stated in a news release.
The van was backed into a parking space near the far northeast corner of the shopping center parking lot, the Police Department stated.
The woman who noticed the smell said she thought a homeless family might be living inside. She said she’d seen the van in the lot on and off for around a month, police Lt. Carl Whitney said.
The windows of the van were covered with blankets and a sunshade when police arrived.
Inside, a man and woman along with two young children were found dead, the Police Department stated. The children, a boy and a girl, both appeared to be under the age of 4.
Authorities later identified the man as Phunyouphone Kanyavong, a 41-year-old Garden Grove resident, but said the woman and children would need to be identified through DNA and fingerprints, which would take longer.
From speaking with Kanyavong’s family, detectives said they believe the other victims were his girlfriend and their two children. Officials believe they often slept inside the vehicle at area parks and shopping centers.
“It’s a entire family gone in one instance, and it’s tragic that this happened,” Whitney said.
No noticeable trauma was found on any of the victims and foul play was not suspected, according to police. The time and cause of death is still under investigation by the Orange County coroner’s office, which is awaiting results of toxicology reports.
Nights have been somewhat cold in the region in recent days, Whitney noted, saying it’s possible the family used some kind of heater that caused carbon monoxide poisoning.
“We’ve had incidents like this in the city before,” Whitney said. “These people don’t know what happened — next thing you know, they’re feeling dizzy and light-headed. Then they pass out and succumb to the poisoning.”
Homicide detectives will be looking for surveillance video as well, he said.
About 700 people who had been living in a large homeless encampment in the Santa Ana riverbed were evicted by the county late last month. After a civil rights organization sued to stop the evictions, a federal judge prodded the two sides toward an agreement in which the county provided temporary shelter for the homeless in the form of motel vouchers.
But for many those vouchers are set to expire Friday, according to court filings made by the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center, the organization representing the Orange County homeless. The county has given the homeless referrals to shelters or treatment programs, but an attorney for the center said the experience has been “very scary” for her clients who aren’t being given any specifics on where they’ll end up.
It’s not clear if the four people who died in Garden Grove were affected by the riverbed sweep. The parking lot where the van was found is about 4 1/2 miles from the river.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at 714-741-5704.
KTLA’s Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.