A story for every victim

Ernesto Calzadilla, 27

Ernesto Calzadilla, a 27-year-old Latino, was fatally shot on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in the 2200 block of Batson Avenue in Rowland Heights, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s records.

On New Year’s Eve, Calzadilla attended a celebration at his friend’s family home. During the party, Michael John Morey fatally shot his son’s bedridden mother, his girlfriend and Calzadilla, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. John Corina. The three victims also included Linda Patricia Merrell, 48, and Betty Jean Morey, 54.

Calzadilla’s friend, Christopher Morey, a 33-year-old white man, wrestled the gun away from his father and shot him once, killing him, officials said.

All four victims were pronounced dead at 8:40 p.m.

Corina said the group had been drinking at the time, and that investigators were trying to determine whether a dispute between the father and his girlfriend over the use of the washing machine played a role in the shooting.

Over the last three years, sheriff’s deputies had been to the residence 25 times, after neighbors or others reported disturbances in the low-slung ranch homes that dot the neighborhood.

Chris Morey was arrested after the shooting and booked on suspicion of murder, but was released two days later due to insufficient evidence, Corina said.

Deputies presented the case on Jan. 13 to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The office had not yet made a decision about the case, a district attorney’s spokeswoman said.

On New Year’s Day, Calzadilla’s friends and family gathered outside the house, crying as they placed candles and flowers at a memorial.

His father crouched on the gravel walkway leading up to the home, his hands probing the dirt. He had heard his son was shot outside of the house and was looking for any remains of the young man.

Wilfred Calzadilla said his brother would often hang out at the Morey house. Ernesto Calzadilla was upset about losing his warehouse job and Christopher Morey was generous with his beer and his money.

Morey and his girlfriend would feed Calzadilla, have a few beers with him and sometimes send him home with cash to buy things for his 10-month-old daughter.

“They were generous,” Wilfred Calzadilla said. “They saw he was sad.”

Ernesto Calzadilla planned to go to a relative’s house to celebrate New Year’s Eve, his brother said, but stayed at Morey’s instead. Calzadilla’s family was toasting the new year with apple cider when they learned about the shooting.

“We heard it on the news and we kept hoping it wasn’t my brother,” he said. “But they told us it was.”

The timing was particularly heartbreaking, Wilfred Calzadilla said, because his brother had just gotten hired at another warehouse.

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s department Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

Contact the Homicide Report. Follow @nicolesantacruz and @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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