Responding to a house fire on a Santa Ana cul-de-sac Tuesday morning, authorities discovered the bodies of two persons inside, and homicide detectives were called to conduct an investigation "because of the suspicious circumstances behind the fire," police said.
Police had responded Saturday to an allegation of domestic violence at the same house in the 2300 block of Manly Avenue, according to Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Both the deceased suffered extensive burns and could not immediately be positively identified, Bertagna said.
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A man who identified himself as the brother of the home-owner expressed fear that his sister, Thuy Nuygen, 55, perished in her house. The brother believes the other person found dead inside was her estranged husband, and suspects he was responsible for the fire and deaths.
The brother, Scott, said the husband had threatened to kill Nguyen and "burn the house down." When Scott went to visit Saturday, he found his sister bruised from an apparent beating, and after the husband ordered him to leave, Scott called police, he said.
Police confirmed that officers arrested Ahmad Alassad, 39, and booked him Saturday for domestic violence. Records show he was released from the Orange County Jail on Sunday. A protective order was obtained, ordering him to stay away from the woman, Bertagna said.
Tuesday evening, neither Thuy Nguyen nor Alassad had been accounted for as investigators held off entering the house until a search warrant had been obtained.
Nguyen had immigrated from Vietnam with her family as a teenager four decades ago, grew up in the Manly Avenue house, and remained there as an adult to care for her parents and another brother until their deaths, according to Scott. In recent years she had taken on boarders to help cover expenses, and that is how she met Alassad in the past 18 months, Scott said.
Alassad had told Nguyen he immigrated from Syria, and Scott remembers him speaking of not being able to go back and fearing deportation in the event of being arrested.
"He had a temper, a very bad temper," said another neighbor who identified herself as Sue. She felt close to Nguyen as a fellow Vietnamese immigrant, but feared Alassad, she said.
After learning Alassad had been released from jail, Scott said he and other family members tried to convince Thuy Nguyen to stay in Scott's home. He recalled her saying she did not see a need to do so. She was last seen alive visiting a sister on New Year's Eve.