Alleged gunman pleads not guilty in murder, kidnapping of 19-year-old woman at Whittier park

Jaysha Patel Image
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Whittier suspect charged with murder, kidnapping of 19-year-old woman
The alleged gunman in the killing of a 19-year-old woman in Whittier has been charged with multiple felonies including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape.

WHITTIER, Calif. (KABC) -- The alleged gunman in the killing of a 19-year-old woman in Whittier has been charged with multiple felonies including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Seven formal charges were filed against 20-year-old Gabriel Esparza in connection with the death of Andrea Vazquez, according to a criminal complaint submitted in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Among the criminal counts were attempted murder, kidnapping to commit another crime, assault with intent to commit a felony, and two counts of attempted forcible rape.

Esparza - who is the son of a Los Angeles County fire captain - entered a not-guilty plea at a court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

Vazquez was kidnapped during a shooting at a park over the weekend and was later found dead, authorities said, adding that the attack was believed to be random.

The incident happened near the parking stalls of Whittier's Penn Park just after midnight, early Sunday morning.

According to family members, Vazquez was at the park with her boyfriend when an armed man approached their vehicle and opened fire. Her sister, Edlyn Vazquez, said the boyfriend fled and when he returned, Andrea was gone.

"As he turned his back to ask for help, in that moment, my sister was kidnapped," said Edlyn.

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Police said Esparza, a Whittier resident, was arrested at his place of employment Monday in Lakewood. He has booked into the Whittier Police Department jail and was being held without bail.

"At this time, it appears that Andrea Vazquez and her male companion were randomly targeted by the suspect at Penn Park," police said in a statement.

The body of Andrea, who was a fashion design student at Fullerton College and worked at a mall in Cerritos, was found late Monday night in a vegetation field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street in Moreno Valley.

"Today is the worst day of my life. We received the news that my daughter died," Andrea's mother, Anna Vazquez, said at a news conference. "We had a lot of hope that she was alive."

Edlyn had said she was able to track Andrea's location for a few minutes shortly after the attack, using Apple's Find My iPhone feature.

"I tracked it to ... going down the 60. I started following it and the location stopped in Moreno Valley, and that's the last known location that I have of her," she said.

A weapon believed to have been used during the crime was recovered, investigators said. Esparza's vehicle, a 2013 white Toyota Tacoma truck, was also found.

More than 100 people attended a memorial vigil in Andrea's honor Tuesday evening at Penn Park.

"I feel wonderful to see all these people who love my daughter," Anna Vazquez said.

A GoFundMe account was created to help Vazquez's family.