5 Suspects Arrested in Killing of 6 Men Found in California Desert: Sheriff

5 Suspects Arrested in Killing of 6 Men Found in California Desert: Sheriff

This aerial still image from video provided by KTLA shows law enforcement vehicles where several people were found shot to death in El Mirage, Calif. on Jan. 24, 2024. (KTLA via AP)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

1/29/2024

Updated: 1/30/2024

Five people have been arrested after six men were killed during an apparent dispute over illegal marijuana in a remote area of San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff Shannon Dicus said on Jan. 29.
“We are confident this appears to be a dispute over marijuana that resulted in the murders,” Detective Sgt. Michael Warrick said during a news conference on Jan. 29.
The suspects arrested are Toniel Baez-Duarte, 34, of Apple Valley; Mateo Baez-Duarte, 24, of Apple Valley; Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, 33, of Adelanto; Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia, 34, of Adelanto; and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, 26, of Adelanto.
Sheriff's Department officers patrol near the scene of a crime in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2, 2015. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Sheriff's Department officers patrol near the scene of a crime in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2, 2015. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The men are being held without bail, according to Mr. Warrick.
Investigators arrested the suspects on a compound close to an illegal marijuana growing site that wasn’t yet active, Mr. Warrick said.
While the officials couldn’t say whether the murders were gang- or cartel-related, the sheriff said that appeared to be the case.
“It certainly looks like it has a lot of the modeling of cartel cases and things of that nature,” Mr. Dicus said.
Investigators determined through an extensive investigation that the victims had arranged to meet at the location for a marijuana sale on Jan. 23. After the five suspects arrived, they allegedly shot the six victims, the sheriff’s department said in a statement. The reason for the shooting is still under investigation.
Many search warrants were served in the case, resulting in the recovery of several firearms and other evidence, according to the department.
Some of the victims may be in the country illegally from Honduras, but that hasn’t been confirmed, according to the sheriff. The department is working with the Honduran Consulate to make the determination, he said.
Four of the victims have been identified. Those include Baldemar Mondragon-Albarran, 34, of Adelanto; Franklin Noel Bonilla, 22, of Hesperia; and Kevin Dariel Bonilla, 25, of Hesperia. A fourth victim was identified as a 45-year-old Hispanic male. Officials are waiting to notify his family before releasing his name.
Sheriff’s deputies found the bodies last week in a remote corner of San Bernardino County, the largest county in the United States by area.
According to Mr. Warrick, a man speaking Spanish called 911 on Jan. 23 and told dispatchers he had been shot and didn’t know where he was. Detectives now believe the caller was Mr. Franklin Noel Bonilla, according to Mr. Warrick.
The sheriff’s office was able to track the call to a remote area of Adelanto, an unincorporated area of the county about eight miles west of Victorville.
The victims had fatal gunshot wounds, and four of them were also found with severe burns. One man’s body was found inside a Chevy Trailblazer, and a sixth body was found the next day, on Jan. 24.
The area is known for illicit marijuana activity, according to the sheriff.
In 2023, the sheriff’s department’s marijuana enforcement teams recovered 655,000 marijuana plants, 74,000 pounds of processed marijuana, and $370 million. In the same period, they also served 11 search warrants in the immediate area surrounding the most recent murders and 40 search warrants to the west of the area, the sheriff reported.
Homicides connected to black-market marijuana are not unusual in the county, Mr. Dicus said. A mostly rural county, San Bernardino County is located in Southern California and stretches from the city of San Bernardino and Riverside, west to the border of Nevada.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department in California discovered several migrants who are human trafficking victims living in “horrible” conditions and working as apparent indentured laborers at an illegal marijuana grow operation in Merced, Calif., on July 26, 2023. (Courtesy of Merced County Sheriff’s Department)

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department in California discovered several migrants who are human trafficking victims living in “horrible” conditions and working as apparent indentured laborers at an illegal marijuana grow operation in Merced, Calif., on July 26, 2023. (Courtesy of Merced County Sheriff’s Department)

“Since we’ve been investigating illegal marijuana grows, a number of body dumps and things have been related to this across our county,” Mr. Dicus said. “It isn’t an anomaly. The anomaly here is the amount of people and this is a problem, and it’s a problem that is not really being talked about.”
The sheriff said much of the increase in illegal marijuana throughout the state in the past few years can be blamed on California’s Proposition 64, passed in 2016, which reduced illicit marijuana crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
“The reality of this is, by allowing that, we’ve unleashed a plague in California, and the plague is the black market of marijuana, and certainly cartel activity and a number of victims out there,” Mr. Dicus said.
The sheriff said his hope is for legislators to change the law to give law enforcement a chance to fight the problem.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the relative location of Adelanto. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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