Man charged with kidnapping, attempted rape and killing of 19-year-old California college student

Man charged with kidnapping, attempted rape and killing of 19-year-old California college student

A Whittier man was charged Wednesday with abducting a 19-year-old Fullerton College student from a park in Whittier and trying to rape and then killing her.

The abduction happened while the victim was with her boyfriend at the park, police said.

Police later found the body of Andrea Vazquez of Downey in Moreno Valley.

Gabriel Esparza, 20, pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder of Vazquez’s boyfriend, kidnapping to commit rape, kidnapping, assault with intent to commit rape and two counts of attempted forcible rape during his Wednesday arraignment at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, according to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Andrea Vazquez. (Photo courtesy Whittier Police Department) 

He also pleaded not guilty to the special circumstance allegations of murder during the course of a kidnapping and murder during the course of an attempted rape as well as the allegation he personally used a rifle while committing the crimes.

He faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted as charged, the statement said. Esparza will return to court Oct. 25 for a hearing.

“It appears to be a random selection of a victim,” Whittier Police Chief Aviv Bar said. “There is no known motive. There’s no apparent or known connection between the suspect and the victims.”

The shooting and kidnapping occurred early Sunday morning at the parking stalls area of Penn Park at 13950 Penn St.

Vazquez and a 19-year-old companion were outside a vehicle, next to each other, talking when the suspect drove up and opened fire, Bar said.

Her companion ran to get help, said Officer Thomas Mattsson, spokesman for the Whittier Police Department.

When the boyfriend came back, Vazquez was missing and there was blood near the vehicle.

The DA’s Office also alleged that the suspect kidnapped Vasquez, drove off with her in the bed of his pickup truck, took her to a remote area of Moreno Valley where he attempted to rape her before leaving her body in a field

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Detectives arrested Esparza at his job in Lakewood on Monday afternoon and seized a firearm and his Toyota Tacoma. They found Vazquez in a field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street late Monday night.

Vazquez was set to begin her second year in Fashion at Fullerton College, said Henry Hua, interim vice president of administrative services.

“The heinous nature of this crime, involving the murder, kidnapping and attempted rape of an innocent young woman, shocks our community to its core,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. His office will work tirelessly to hold Esparza accountable for his “callous” actions against the victims, Gascón said.

Esparza remains in custody without bail.