A 20-year-old Los Angeles man was arrested and charged with three murders, including the killing of a couple who were gunned down while they sat in their car with their 1-year-old son, who was wounded but survived.
The Los Angeles Police Department arrested Dion Johnson on Monday in connection with three separate shootings. He was charged with the murders of 23-year-old Carlos Loera, 18-year-old Ashley Guzman and 17-year-old Joseph Saldaña, authorities announced Thursday during a news conference with members of the victims' families. Johnson was also charged with five counts of attempted murder in connection with five people who were wounded during the shootings.
The mother and father of the wounded infant, Guzman and Loera, were killed Sept. 4 in the 1000 block of 253rd Street in Harbor City. When police arrived, they found the couple's son with a gunshot wound. The child was strapped into a car seat, which slowed down the bullet that struck the boy; he survived, said LAPD Capt. Jamie Bennett.
Several weeks later, on Sept. 30, Saldaña was shot and killed while visiting family in the 1200 block of North Park Western Drive in San Pedro. He was standing outside a relative's home just after midnight when he was shot along with three other people, who were wounded.
Saldaña was killed a few weeks before his 18th birthday. He was getting ready to start classes at Cerritos College, where he wanted to study engineering, according to his family. He was also set to start his first job at Walmart.
"He was just a totally innocent kid who stayed home and played video games. He was a gamer," his father, Joseph Saldaña Sr., said, wearing a button with a photo of his son beaming with a bright smile.
"In every photo, he just radiated with that smile," his godmother, Monique Vasquez, said. She wore a locket with the younger Saldaña's ashes.
A third shooting took place Oct. 2 in Wilmington, where police say a 43-year-old man was shot and seriously injured.
Homicide investigators said they were able to link all three shootings to Johnson and that there might be additional suspects. All the shootings appear to be gang-related, Bennett said, but investigators did not offer additional information about a motive. Johnson has a criminal record in Las Vegas from a time before he moved to Los Angeles, authorities said, but they did not say in which part of the city he lived when he was arrested.
"A 17-year-old was murdered, you had a young couple trying to raise a family, who were murdered and you have a young son who has to go through his life now without his parents," said Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace. "And this is something that nobody wants to see."
Los Angeles City Councilman Tim McOsker said the gunman "wreaked havoc" on the communities affected by the shootings over the span of just a few weeks.
"Today gives us an opportunity to stand up for the families and to stand up for the next generation of these families and for generations of these families," he said.
Vanessa Guzman and her family wore T-shirts with Ashley Guzman's smiling face. She and her mother, Nora Galvan, sobbed during the news conference. They sat next to a baby carrier with a colorful blanket draped over Ashley Guzman and Carlos Loera's child.
Vanessa Guzman described her sister as a bit of a joker, giggling, dancing around and making faces to cheer up someone who was upset.
"She was like the life of the party," Vanessa Guzman said. "Now that she's gone, it just feels very quiet."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.