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Motive unknown after 5 shot to death

November 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police said they are dealing with a challenging crime scene in their search for clues after five people were found shot to death in Long Beach.Long Beach Police received a tip from a man calling from a pay phone around 8:30 a.m. Sunday and found the bodies at a homeless encampment on West Wardlow Road just east of Santa Fe Avenue near the 710 Interchange.

Police said the five people, three men and two women, all died from apparent gunshot wounds. Some had been shot more than once. One of the women had two children, and the other had seven children.

The coroner says that they were probably killed sometime Saturday afternoon or evening.

Authorities identified two of the victims as Vanessa Malaepule, 34, and Lorenzo Perez Villicana, 44. The other names were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The encampment below the freeway was made up of tents. There were basics for cooking and eating, and even some family photographs.

Police are still searching for the killer or killers responsible for the mass murder.

"At this time we do not have a motive. We are hearing different things from the community, much like the reports you have placed in the news. There have been reports that there may have been drug sales that had taken place over there," said Chief Anthony Batts. "There were also reports that everyone who was found may or may not of been homeless. We don't know those things, but that is part of what we have to tear apart at this time and do further investigations."

Police cleared out all of the homeless that were living near by after the anonymous tip on Sunday. A man named Byron, who did not want to give his last name, says he knew all five of the victims.

He says he was suppose to go by the encampment Saturday night, but decided not to because it was raining.

"They were just friends. They were there in tents and they mostly looked out for each other. That is probably why all of them had to go. They might of been looking for each other then, but got shot," said Byron.

Neighbors say there is a lot of drug activity in the area. Don Prince, who knew the victims, wonders why someone would kill five people.

"I knew the four, five of them for a long time. Why? It was stupid. The guy, if he had a beef with one of them he could of done it another way. To shoot and kill is not really the answer. Nothing is that serious. It couldn't of been that serious to kill five people -- let's be reasonable," said Prince.

Neighbors said they heard a commotion just after midnight on Saturday.

Police are trying to determine if drugs were involved in the mass murder.

"We just noticed there's a lot of drugs, a lot of people going in and out of there, just doing a lot of drugs, I mean, like especially in the night time, late at night," said neighbor Esperanza Spereyra.

"I have a feeling it has to do with drugs," said Richard Hughes, a friend of the victims. "They were known to use methamphetamines."

As the investigation continues, police are challenged with sifting through an area of dense brush and debris for bullet casings and other evidence. There was rain in the area after the shootings, which also has a tendency to disturb evidence.

Deputy Chief Robert Luna says police are still trying to get back in contact with the person who made the call. Officers believe the person may know more about the murders than they let on over the phone.

Anyone with information is urged to call Long Beach Police at (562) 570-7244.

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