Vigil held for two young women found dead in Montecito Heights park

A community procession and vigil was held tonight in memory of two young women found dead in a Montecito Heights park, while police continued their search for their killer.

The bodies of 19-year-old Gabriela Calzada and 17-year-old Briana Gallegos, a Pico Rivera resident and student at Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies in Glassell Park, were found about 2:20 p.m. Oct. 28 near Mercury and Boundary avenues along a walking path through Ernest E. Debs Regional Park.

Their deaths have been classified as homicides. Briana was reported missing about 9 p.m. Oct. 28, roughly seven hours after the bodies were found.

Teena Padilla, who attended the vigil, said she met Calzada in a youth-development group. "Her dream was being a wildland firefighter," she said.

Police have said the victims were fully clothed and did not appear to have been sexually assaulted. It was unclear how long the bodies had been at the park before they were found by a woman walking her dog.

Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith has said the bodies had evidence of blunt-force trauma, but it's unclear if that was the cause of death.

Citing the coroner's office, NBC4 reported this week that Calzada had been shot in the head. Ed Winter of the coroner's office declined to comment on the report, citing security holds that had been placed on the case by police.

The Eastside Mujeres Network community group sponsored the procession and vigil. Participants gathered at Rose Hills Recreation Center, then marched to Boundary Avenue and Victorine Street, near the site where the bodies were found.

Online Gofundme pages have been created to help the families of each of the victims. A fundraising car wash will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Glassell Senior Center, 3750 Verdugo Road, to benefit Calzada's family.

It was unclear if the deaths were linked to a series of assaults that occurred in the same park last year. In August 2014, police released a composite drawing of a man wanted for accosting three women who were walking in
the park on separate occasions.

According to police, the victim of the first attack on Jan. 13, 2014, was groped by a suspect on a bicycle. On June 25, 2014, a woman was approached by a man riding a green bicycle. The suspect asked her if he could use her cell phone, and then exposed his genitals to her.

On July 20, 2014, a woman was walking her dog when she was approached by a man armed with a knife. The suspect grabbed her by the shoulder and punched her in the face. When she fell to the ground, he stood over her, then ran away.

Los Angeles police Capt. Martin Baeza said the investigators are continuing their search for clues in the girls' killings and are exploring all possible theories.

"We're looking at any type of gang connection, we're looking at the (previous) incidents that happened in the park, we're looking at acquaintances, we're looking at anything that's coming our way as far as leads," he said.