I'm so glad to see this story picked up here too! I live in the Ortega’s neighborhood, about 10 houses down from their street. My next door neighbors on both sides heard the gunshots, but we did not hear them as we’d gone to bed. But the massive number of emergency vehicles and flashing lights passing our house woke us up, and the next morning, there was a thick acrid, greasy smell in the air. Pardo not only shot this family execution-style, he had fashioned a homemade flamethrower and torched everything to keep those not shot from escaping. The fire was huge and intense, but some kids escaped jumping from second story windows and retreating to neighbor’s homes. First thing that monster did was shoot the 9yro girl who answered the door in the face. (Remarkably, she lived.) Thirteen children were orphaned that night.
It was a horrible, surreal experience. We didn’t know the Ortegas, but it was deeply disturbing to think THAT happened *here*. Not some other part of the country, some other city, some other PART of the city, even–HERE. We listened in horror to the news radio on the hourlong drive as the body count grew. Later, we had the surreal experience of watching national news correspondents walking down a street in our neighborhood in special news reports. We also had the disturbing realization that that monster had to have driven past our house twice that night.
What was worse was in the days and weeks following, our neighborhood was barraged by news vans, helicopters, and worst of all, looky-loos. A friend of mine who lived on the corner of that street had people (as in, more than one) *knock on the door to ask directions.* She and her husband said they reached a point they just wanted to stand on the corner and direct traffic toward the street. I meanwhile wanted to put freakin’ spike strips down.
But, it brought our neighborhood together—we tied orange ribbons to trees and posts in community unity (Covina used to be an orange grove), knocked on doors and shared our horrified reactions, baked friendship bread and passed it along, conducted both public and private fundraisers.
The house has long since been bulldozed, but the scarred lot remains. I pass it often as it’s part of one of my regular dog walking routes. A simple privacy fence is in place, but you can still see the emptied pool and slide through the screen. Every Christmas, a neighbor sets out the lighted reindeer the Ortegas always had out, some of the few salvaged items from the home. Sometimes candles and other memorial items line the privacy fence in the driveway.
I didn’t know about their connection to Return Of The King until he ran at SA. And, like many I think, it didn’t even occur to me that his future may be as dark as it became. A surviving brother (James) had inherited him and this was the first time he ran under his name. When I saw ROTK on AHR’s Facebook page and the story connected, I freaked—I instantly remembered him (his name *had* seemed familiar) and I started tagging locals and friends. My husband teaches where a lot of the Ortega kids went to school, and a teacher friend had many of the kids. She in turn tagged the kids in the post so they could see. I’m thrilled to read the LA Times story that they have heard about this and plan to see ROTK before he moves on to his new home.
I felt the need to do SOMEthing as a local resident, so I called the local paper a few times and finally got in contact with a very interested reporter a week after ROTK was rescued. I shared names, contact information, everything I had. This paper just ran a “Five Years Later” story this past Christmas on the massacre, and this horrible event still reverberates through our community. I thought maybe they’d passed on it when I saw the LA Times article, but AHR tells me one is in fact in the works with our paper. Hope so! I’ll link it here when it comes out.
Return of the King won for the Ortegas just two weeks after the massacre. I remember it making all the papers, and how Santa Anita ran a fundraiser for the family a month later. It’s horrific the horse came to this place, but it’s beautiful that he has been rescued and retirement awaits him. He is the living reminder of the darkest parts of human nature, both human on human and human on animal, yet he also is the embodiment of courage, strength, endurance, and hope.
Wow. What a story. The photo of him is precious. Poor horse. Going place to place, wondering what it's all about, until sore and sad he ends up at auction. SO GLAD Megan Gaynes got him and that his breeder is going to take him home.