RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A beloved grandmother was killed last weekend in a "random act of cowardice to one of our more vulnerable community members," Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement Thursday.
Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena, 19, of Palm Springs, was booked Wednesday on charges of murder, home invasion robbery and burglary in connection with the death of 78-year-old Denise Irene Wong, of Riverside.
Sixto Jesus Garcia Pena, 19
Investigators said that on the evening of Jan. 6, police officers responded to a home in the 200 block of E. Manfield Street, to check the welfare of an elderly resident. Wong's out of town family members had called authorities to check on her because she lived by herself and was not answering their calls.
When officers arrived, they found a broken window as they were checking the rear of the house. They also saw some items that appeared to be out of place, consistent with a burglary. They decided to gain access to the house and once inside, found Wong deceased in an apparent homicide.
Investigators determined that Wong was murdered during a home invasion robbery hours earlier and her vehicle was stolen. Police said that investigators learned that Wong's vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run crash in the city of Indio that same day.
The suspect fled the location after the crash and the vehicle had been impounded.
"Based on evidence collected at the scene and vehicle, detectives were quickly able to identify the person suspected in these crimes," Riverside Police wrote in a press release.
Detectives and members of Riverside County District Attorney’s Gang Impact Team worked tirelessly over the next few days to develop and pursue leads to determine the suspect’s whereabouts.
On Jan. 9, they learned the suspect was recently arrested and booked into Imperial County jail for attempted car theft.
Pena was transferred from Imperial County jail Wednesday and booked into the Southwest Detention Center where he is currently being held without bail.
"This was a random act of cowardice to one of our more vulnerable community members that should have never happened," Gonzalez said in a statement. "But now our focus turns to supporting the forthcoming prosecution and standing with the victim’s family in their pursuit of justice."
Wong was a 50-year resident of Riverside and loved her city and community, according to her family members.
"Denise Irene Wong was a loving mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and a good and kind person," the family said in a statement. "We are shocked and heartbroken over her passing. But, we will always remember her warmth, generosity, and smile. We take heart in knowing she lived a life filled with love, faith, and devotion to her family."
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with additional information was asked to contact Detective Dave Riedeman at 951-353-7104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.