WHITTIER, Calif. – A 20-year-old man has been charged with multiple felonies, including murder, kidnapping, and attempted rape, in connection with the death of a 19-year-old woman in Whittier, prosecutors announced on Wednesday. Gabriel Esparza, the son of a Los Angeles County fire captain, entered a not-guilty plea at a court appearance.
According to authorities, the victim, Andrea Vazquez, was kidnapped during a shooting at a park over the weekend and was later found dead. The incident occurred near the parking stalls of Whittier’s Penn Park just after midnight on Sunday. Vazquez was at the park with her boyfriend when an armed man approached their vehicle and opened fire. Her boyfriend managed to escape, but when he returned, Vazquez was gone.
Police believe the attack was random, stating that it appears Vazquez and her companion were targeted by the suspect at Penn Park. Esparza, a Whittier resident, was arrested at his workplace in Lakewood on Monday and is currently being held without bail.
The body of Andrea Vazquez, a fashion design student at Fullerton College, was discovered late Monday night in a vegetation field in Moreno Valley. Her grieving mother, Anna Vazquez, expressed her devastation during a news conference, stating, “Today is the worst day of my life. We had a lot of hope that she was alive.”
A weapon believed to have been used during the crime was recovered, along with Esparza’s white Toyota Tacoma truck. The community came together to honor Andrea’s memory at a memorial vigil held at Penn Park, with over 100 people in attendance. A GoFundMe account has been set up to support the Vazquez family.
Esparza’s case will continue to be investigated as the legal proceedings unfold.