Six people were found dead in a remote area of the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County, California, last week, in what the sheriff’s office said was a violent dispute over an illegal marijuana operation. Five suspects have been arrested in connection with the killings, which occurred on January 23, 2024, near El Mirage, about 10 miles north of Adelanto.
The bodies were discovered after a man called 911 and said he had been shot, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies responded to the scene, near Lessing Avenue and Shadow Mountain Road, around 8:15 p.m., and found five deceased individuals. A sixth victim was found the next morning. The victims were identified as Jose Luis Garcia, 40; Jose Luis Garcia Jr., 21; Jorge Luis Garcia, 19; Maria Garcia, 18; and Victor Garcia, 17, all from Los Angeles; and David Valenzuela, 37, from Santa Ana.
The sheriff’s office said that the victims had been shot and burned, and that the scene was “horrific”. Aerial footage showed two vehicles, a dark-colored SUV and a white minivan, near the bodies. The SUV had an Oregon license plate and was riddled with bullet holes and shattered windows. The minivan appeared to be undamaged.
A violent confrontation
The sheriff’s office said that the killings were the result of a violent confrontation over an illegal marijuana operation, which involved the suspects and the victims. The sheriff’s office said that the suspects had been cultivating marijuana in the area, and that the victims had come to the area to either buy or steal the marijuana. The sheriff’s office said that the suspects and the victims had exchanged gunfire, and that the suspects had set fire to the victims and their vehicles.
The sheriff’s office said that the suspects had fled the scene, but were later tracked down and arrested. The suspects were identified as Jose Luis Ochoa, 35; Eduardo Ochoa, 32; Gerardo Ochoa, 29; and Alejandro Ruiz, 22, all from Los Angeles; and Juan Carlos Lopez, 39, from Santa Ana. The sheriff’s office said that the suspects were booked on charges of murder, attempted murder, and arson, and were being held without bail.
A growing problem
The sheriff’s office said that the killings were an example of the growing problem of illegal marijuana cultivation in the county, especially in the High Desert area, where the climate and terrain are favorable for the crop. The sheriff’s office said that the illegal marijuana operations pose a threat to the public safety and the environment, as they are often associated with violence, theft, weapons, human trafficking, and water theft. The sheriff’s office said that it has been conducting Operation Hammer Strike, a task force that consists of sheriff’s deputies and state Fish and Wildlife officers, to combat the illegal marijuana cultivation in the county.
The sheriff’s office said that it has seized more than 500,000 marijuana plants, 25,000 pounds of processed marijuana, 65 firearms, and $28 million in cash and assets from the illegal marijuana operations since the launch of Operation Hammer Strike in May 2022. The sheriff’s office said that it has also arrested more than 700 suspects and shut down more than 200 illegal marijuana operations in the county.
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