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Reward leads to arrest of three fugitives in South El Monte firebombing

Three young men wanted for the South El Monte firebombing that killed two 17-year-old teenagers and an 18-year-old mother of two were found hiding in Mexico July 25 and extradited to California to face capital murder charges.

Mario Godina Jr., 19, Estevan Manuel Castillo, 20, and German Monrreal, 20, are scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 13 at the El Monte Branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Department 6, according to a news release from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. 

Co-defendant Robert Fuentes, 19, who was arrested shortly after the April 25 fire, faces the same capital murder charges and will also be arraigned that day. 

The four men are also charged with one count each of arson causing great bodily injury and use of an explosive to injure. They are accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail into the El Cheque tire shop shortly before 5:30 a.m. 

The resulting fire destroyed the tire shop and killed the three friends sleeping inside: Rodrigo Gonzalez, 17, whose father Ezequiel owns the business; Destiny Monique Aguirre, 18; and Christopher Jimenez, 17. 

Aguirre’s mother, Lena, said family members are happy the three fugitives have been caught, “but it’s still like really sad because it can’t bring Destiny back,” she said. “I think the reward made the difference, yes. And I’ll be there for the trial, because I’m hoping to get some answers.”

Felony arrest warrants were issued May 19 for Godina, Castillo and Monreal, but it wasn’t until the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the city of South El Monte joined forces to offer a $30,000 reward in early July that investigators got a tip that led to their arrest.

“We think the reward played a significant role in developing the information that led to their arrests,” sheriff's Lt. Victor Lewandowski said. 

Through help from the United States Marshal’s Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Taskforce and members of the Mexican State Police in Jalisco, the three men were arrested without incident in two small towns in the state of Jalisco, Lewandowski said. 

They were flown back to Los Angeles International Airport the following day, on July 26, where they were met by homicide detectives. They were booked into Los Angeles County Jail, where they are being held without bail. 

Investigators are still interested in talking to a male “person of interest” who allegedly was seen with the suspects before the firebombing, Lewandowski said. 

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

Jeanette Marantos 

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