LAPD hunts murder suspect near Upper School

By Daniel Rothberg

A helicopter circled the upper school campus Sept. 17 as Los Angeles Police Department officers conducted a seven-hour manhunt on motorbikes, ATVs, horseback, and on foot for a parolee suspected in the slaying of a Valley Village woman in July. According to the Los Angeles Times website, Omar Armando Loera was charged with murder, burglary, arson and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the homicide. Faculty and staff were notified of the search shortly after school on Friday.

The LAPD searched Fryman Park and Wilacre Park and the trails leading down from the Tree People site to south of the upper school campus before calling off the search at 5:30 p.m. Canyon residents were advised to stay indoors and lock their doors and windows.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said during the search that the LAPD told Head of Security Jim Crawford that “the school was not in any immediate danger.”

The school did close the gates to the Hamilton and St. Michael’s parking lot as well as the lower gate around 4 p.m. to restrict access to campus, Crawford said.

According to the Los Angeles Times website, a man matching the description of the 34-year old suspect was seen near Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon Friday morning. It was not confirmed that the individual that policed searched for was Loera, Detective Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s North Hollywood Detective Division Alan Hamilton said on Monday. While police are not certain as to whether Loera is still in the vacinity, they consider him to be “armed and dangerous,” Hamilton said.

[Update: Omar Loera was arrested in Mexicali, Mexico Oct. 12 and returned to Los Angeles by LAPD officers, the police said.]

“We want to get him off the street before harms someone else,” Hamilton said. “It is the priority in North Hollywood.”

Robbie Loeb ’12, who lives in the canyon, turned on the alarm and locked all of the doors at his home after the LAPD left a message on his home phone with information about the situation and a description of the suspect at about 2:45 p.m. Additionally, an e-mail alert from the LAPD was being sent to neighbors, Loeb said.

“There are tons of ways to get in and out of that park and lots of heavily wooded areas he could hide in,” Loeb said.

Cross-country runners, who had left the campus on their daily training run on Friday, were called back to campus by athletic department staff. Advisers of other after school activities were alerted. Students working after school on The Chronicle were told by security to move their cars from the student parking places and nearby streets to faculty parking adjacent to Weiler Hall, where they were working.

Hamilton said on Monday that the detectives had received about 75 tips from the public since Loera was charged in the July 24 murder of Cheree Osmanhodzic.

One tip came from Justin Cohen ’11 after he saw an individual that resembled Loera near the school’s north entrance when he was leaving school on Thursday. Cohen said that he notified the police after looking up Loera’s picture on the internet when he arrived home about 20 minutes after the sighting.

“The first officer said she would broadcast it out to units in the area,” Cohen said. “About an hour after that, I got a sergeant from LAPD and she was on Coldwater looking for him. She called to interview me about what I had seen.”

Cohen had first seen a photo of Loera earlier that day.

Crawford had sent out a crime bulletin earlier in the week alerting faculty and staff to the fact that Loera had been seen in the neighborhood near school. Crawford said that if someone sees the suspect or anyone resembling him off campus, they should immediately call 911.

“If you see him, be a good witness,” Crawford said. “Don’t try to do anything yourself. Get a good clothing description [and] a good idea where he’s walking and what he’s wearing.”

This is the first year that Crawford has sent out crime alerts to faculty and staff.

“If things come up that I feel there is a need that our faculty and staff needs to know about, I’m going to tell them,” Crawford said. “If it is something more urgent…it will be sent out school-wide.”

“At all times, students should be aware of their surroundings and cognizant of the fact that there are often criminal suspects in the area,” Hamilton said.

As of last Friday, police were offering a $50,000 award for information leading to Loera’s arrest. Information can be reported to detectives at the LAPD North Hollywood Station at (818) 623-4016.