A Long Beach man has been arrested and jailed for allegedly abducting and murdering 17-year-old Norma Lopez on July 15, 2010, as she walked home from summer school in Moreno Valley.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department said Friday its detectives took Jesse Perez Torres, 35, into custody in Long Beach at 6 a.m. Thursday. Torres is a Long Beach resident, although his address was not disclosed nor whether he was captured there. Because the investigation is ongoing, little information was being released about Torres or his connection to the crime.
Torres was booked at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside about 6 p.m. Thursday, with bail set at $1 million. In his booking photo, released by the Riverside Sheriff's Department, Torres appeared unshaven, with some pinkish discoloration on his nose and cheeks that might be abrasions.
“We are confident we have the suspect in custody and can breathe a sigh of relief now,” said Moreno Valley Police Chief John Anderson at a news conference Friday.
Also attending were the late Norma's father, Martin Lopez, and her sister, Elizabeth. They said they learned of the arrest of Norma's accused killer Thursday night and shared their emotional reaction at the press conference Friday.
"So much went through my mind,” Elizabeth said, according to the Southwest Riverside News Network. “I’m happy, but I’m still hurting every day. We can’t bring her back, but at least we know who did it.”
The still-grieving father spoke in Spanish. “Yes, I’m happy they caught him,” he said. “But we’re still sad because she’s not here. It’s heartbreaking, but now his family is going to suffer.”
The morning of July 15, 2010, Norma, dressed in black skinny jeans and a black and white striped sleeveless shirt, was walking home from summer school at Valley View High School and was bound for her Cottonwood Avenue home, where she was to meet her little sister and a friend at 10 a.m.
She did not arrive. She had been seen taking a frequently used shortcut through a dirt lot, where her belongings and indications of a struggle were found, police said.
Information quickly arrived about a green SUV-like vehicle that was seen speeding away from that area.Her description - Latina, 5-feet-7, 110 pounds, shoulder length brown hair - was released to the media, and the FBI called for help.
Five days later and about three miles away, her remains were found at 3 p.m. under an olive tree. The grieving community of Moreno Valley was gripped by panic about the fatal broad daylight attack.
And 15 months passed.
Friday, her father and sister obviously couldn't reconcile the word happy but perhaps found a measure of relief.
“I don’t want him to get the death penalty," she added. "That’s the easy way out.”
The suspect was scheduled to be arraigned in court Monday.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department urged anyone with information regarding this investigation to contact Riverside Sheriff's Department Central Homicide Investigator Merrill at (951) 955-2777.