LOS ANGELES—Authorities have arrested 3 people in connection to a Westlake apartment complex that was set on fire on May 3, 1993. Ten residents, seven children (between the ages of 15 months to 11 years old) and three women (two of whom were expectant mothers), were killed.
The suspects, Johanna Lopez, 51, Ramiro “Greedy” Valerio, 43, and Joseph Monge, 41, were associated with an 18th Street Gang known as Columbia Lil Cycos. Members were in the process of persecuting residents of the neighborhood in which the arson took place. The group, according to court documents, ran the neighborhood’s drug trade area.
A fourth suspect was also identified, though no information was disclosed on the individual who reportedly fled from the United States.
Located at 330 South Burlington Avenue, the three-story complex housed immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Many of the low-income residents lived in one-bedroom units, some which held up to 12 people according to reports.
The fire started on the second floor and spread “quickly,” according to Donald Manning, former Los Angeles Fire Department Fire Chief. Residents attempted to escape the building by jumping out of windows and climbing down bedsheets. Children and infants were tossed from balconies and out of windows into waiting hands. Over 100 residents were dislodged and around 40 sustained injuries from the blaze.
Valerio and Monge were arrested on Friday, February 3 “on suspicion of committing murder with special circumstances,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Valerio’s bail was set at $25 million and Monge’s set at $2 million. Lopez, who has been detained since 2011, is expected to be held on the same charges.
Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles District Attorney indicated during a press conference: “In this case, time was on our side. During the original investigation, witnesses who were living in fear of the gang members that controlled their neighborhood would not cooperate with the police. Now 24 years later, they are willing to testify to what they saw and heard on that deadly day.”
Lacey indicated that Lopez, Valerio, and Monge are expected to be charged with 12 counts of murder in connection with the 10 victims who were killed. In addition, prosecutors are determining whether or not the three will be issued the death penalty.
Canyon News briefly spoke with Officer Drake Madison of the LAPD who was unable to provide additional information on the incident.