Gabriel Esparza, left, has been arrested as a suspect in the killing of 19-year-old Andrea Vazquez, right, after she was kidnapped from a Whittier park and then found dead in Moreno Valley, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2023.
WHITTIER, Calif.—Authorities have arrested a man in the kidnapping and fatal shooting of a young woman at Penn Park in Whittier over the weekend, police announced on Aug. 22.
Gabriel Esparza, 20, of Whittier was arrested on Aug. 21 afternoon at his workplace in Lakewood, the Whittier Police Department reported.
Mr. Esparza was booked on suspicion of murder and kidnapping in the death of Andrea Vazquez, 19, police said. He was being held without bail, according to police, who said a weapon believed to be used in the crime has been recovered. Mr. Esparza’s vehicle, a 2013 White Toyota Tacoma truck, has also been recovered, police said.
According to police, the shooting occurred early in the morning on Aug. 20, shortly after midnight, at the parking stalls area of Penn Park at 13950 Penn St.
“An adult male witness reported that while at the park with an adult female companion, an armed suspect approached their vehicle and fired a weapon in their direction,” police said in a statement.
“The male witness ran from the location and upon his return, discovered blood near his vehicle and his female companion was missing,” police said. “Detectives are actively working this investigation and following up on all leads.”
On Monday, police sought the public’s help to find Ms. Vazquez. On Tuesday afternoon, police announced the arrest.
“Throughout the investigation, an ongoing search for Andrea Ms. Vazquez took place in large open land areas of Moreno Valley,” police said.
“At 11:50 p.m. on August 21, 2023, detectives located the body of Andrea Vazquez in a vegetation field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street in Moreno Valley,” police continued. “At this time, it appears that Andrea Vazquez and her male companion were randomly targeted by the suspect at Penn Park.”
Agencies also involved in the investigation included the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Downey Police Department, and the La Habra Police Department.
The case will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office on Aug. 23 for the possible filing of charges.
“Detectives are not disclosing any additional details at this time because the investigation is ongoing,” police said.
Anyone with information about the case was urged to call the police tipline at 562-567-9299.