Woman is shot, kidnapped and killed while out with her boyfriend in a Whittier park

Andrea Vazquez, age 19, of Downey, is now a missing person. (Whittier Police Department)
Andrea Vazquez, 19, of Downey was kidnapped and killed in what police say was a random attack in Whittier park. (Whittier Police Department)

Andrea Vazquez and her boyfriend were at Penn Park in Whittier, sitting on the trunk of his car just after midnight Sunday, when a gunman began shooting at them in a random attack, police say.

Vazquez was believed to have been shot in the attack, and her boyfriend told police she and the gunman were gone, leaving behind only blood on the ground, when he turned around.

On Tuesday, after a two-day search for the 19-year-old, police said Vazquez had been found dead in a field in Moreno Valley, just a short distance from where her family tracked her cellphone following the kidnapping.

Police also arrested 20-year-old Gabriel Esparza, a Whittier resident who they say targeted the couple in a random attack.

Vazquez's family was notified of her death by a detective Tuesday morning, said Moses Castillo, a former LAPD detective and advocate for the family.

"This is not the outcome they wanted, but they do realize Whittier Police worked around the clock," he said. "Their pain and grief is beyond description."

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Vazquez's boyfriend would later tell police that during the attack at the park he ran to avoid the gunfire. When he returned, there was blood on the ground, the other vehicle had fled, and Vazquez was gone.

Vazquez's family said they're struggling to understand the violent sequence of events.

Before learning of her death, Vazquez's sister and mother told The Times they had no idea who would have targeted Vazquez, who kept a small circle of friends and never mentioned any concerns about her safety.

"She knows everything about me, and I know everything about her," said Vazquez's 33-year-old sister, Edlyn. "I know for a fact she has no trouble."

She said her sister's boyfriend told the family he and Andrea both jumped to the ground when the shooting began and that he was ducking around his car when he noticed Andrea was bleeding.

A mug shot of a young man.
Gabriel Sean Esparza, 20, was arrested in connection with the kidnapping and killing of Andrea Vazquez, 19, of Downey. Police say she was abducted at gunpoint in Whittier. (Whittier Police Department)

She said he told her he locked eyes with the gunman at one point and fled toward a couple sitting on a park bench to ask for help. The couple started running away as well, and when he turned around, the car and Andrea were both gone.

It was after he called 911 that he rushed to her mother's house, Edlyn Vazquez said.

Edlyn said she then got a call from her mother telling her what happened, and she immediately looked up her sister's location using her cellphone's tracking app.

Edlyn said she and a friend could see a signal for Andrea's phone moving along the 60 Freeway toward Riverside, and the two got into a car to follow the signal.

"They were way ahead of us, though, there was no way to catch them," she said.

Edlyn followed the phone to World Logistics Center Parkway in Moreno Valley, where she said they lost the signal.

"When I got to the location, there was just blood at the scene," she said.

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When police arrived, she said officers arrived with canines and drones, searching the area until early that morning. Still, there was no sign of her sister. She said with Tropical Storm Hilary on the way, the search was stopped by about 6 a.m. Sunday.

It was just a short distance away, in a vegetation field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street, police said, that they found Andrea Vazquez's body.

Police said Esparza was taken into custody at his workplace in Lakewood, without incident. He was booked on suspicion of murder and kidnapping and was being held without bail.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.