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BREAKING NEWS: Arrest Made in Penn Park Shooting and Kidnapping Incident. Victim Found Deceased.

Updated: Aug 24, 2023


Whittier, CA - August 22, 2023

In a shocking turn of events, an arrest has been made in connection with the shooting and kidnapping incident that occurred at Penn Park in Whittier. The Whittier Police Department, in collaboration with the LADA Community Violence Reduction Team, apprehended 20-year-old Gabriel Esparza, a resident of Whittier, on charges related to the tragic event.

The incident unfolded on August 20, 2023, at the parking stalls area of Penn Park shortly after midnight. The victim, identified as 19-year-old Andrea Vazquez, a fashion design student at Fullerton College and employee at a mall in Cerritos, was violently abducted, and the case immediately garnered the attention of local authorities and residents alike.

Following relentless investigation and cooperation among law enforcement agencies including the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Downey Police Department, La Habra Police Department, and the LADA Investigations Bureau Community Violence Reduction Team, a breakthrough was achieved. Gabriel Esparza was taken into custody without incident at his workplace in Lakewood on August 21, 2023.

Esparza has been booked at the Whittier Police Department jail on charges of murder and kidnapping. He is being held without bail. A weapon believed to have been used in the crime was recovered, along with Esparza’s vehicle, a 2013 White Toyota Tacoma truck.

Tragically, after an exhaustive search that spanned large open land areas of Moreno Valley, the body of Andrea Vazquez was discovered at 11:50 p.m. on August 21, 2023, in a vegetation field off Alessandro Boulevard and Merwin Street in Moreno Valley. It appears that both Andrea Vazquez and her male companion were randomly targeted by the suspect at Penn Park.

In a recent development regarding the disappearance of 19-year-old Andrea Vazquez, her very brave and determined sister Edlyn played a crucial role in cracking the case. Following the assault on Andrea by an unknown assailant in a Whittier park on August 20, Edlyn embarked on a determined search, tracing her sister's phone signal to World Logistics Center Parkway in Moreno Valley at which point Edlyn notified the police who immediately dispatched drones, search dogs, and officers to look for Andrea in the area around the location.

According to Edlyn, the signal was eventually lost in the vicinity of World Logistics Center Parkway, adding a layer of mystery to Andrea's disappearance.

The dedication and commitment of the investigations division, as well as the cooperation of various law enforcement agencies, played a pivotal role in swiftly apprehending the suspect and locating the victim. The case will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office on August 23, 2023.

As the investigation is ongoing, detectives are refraining from disclosing additional details at this time. Anyone with relevant information is urged to contact the crime tipline at 562-567-9299. For media inquiries, please reach out to Officer Tommy Mattsson at tmattsson@cityofwhittier.org or 562-244-0045.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Andrea Vazquez during this difficult time.

Below is a Whittier PD photo of the accused killer, Gabriel Esparza.



Whittier PD released this booking photo of the suspect, Gabriel Esparza of Whittier.

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