El Sereno

Family of El Sereno Stabbing Suspect Believes Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

The suspect's family is now telling NBCLA they worked hard to get him help, and they believe the murder and attempted murder were preventable.

NBC Universal, Inc.

New details are emerging about the past of a suspect accused of randomly stabbing two people in El Sereno; one a father of three who survived, and the other a high school senior who died of his injuries.

The Los Angeles Police Department arrested David Zapata on suspicion of murder and attempted murder March 8 following the attack on 17-year-old Xavier Chavarin, who was stabbed to death.

Zapata’s family is now telling NBCLA they worked hard to get him help, and they believe the murder and attempted murder were preventable.

Xavier Chavarin was waiting for his mom after school in El Sereno when police allege Zapata randomly stabbed the straight-A student in the back, killing him.

"It breaks my heart, the fact that they just took him away from me. Perfect child. Perfect child," Laura Frias, Xavier’s mom, said.

Danny Villalobos, 32, was stabbed March 3 outside Valley Food Liquor, just five hours after and 1.6 miles away from where Xavier Chavarin was killed. Villalobos struggled with the suspect but has not yet fully recovered from what he said were six stab wounds -- three to the stomach, two to the chest and one to the back.

"I just saw him going at me with a knife and he stabbed me six times. The first time was here. I have about five cuts here," Villalobos said in a previous interview with NBCLA.

LAPD later arrested Zapata at his grandma’s home in Alhambra.

LA County District Attorney George Gascón then charged him with murder and attempted murder at the time. He said they have no evidence he had a history of mental health issues.

"We don’t have any reason to believe he’s not competent today," Gascón said.

But Zapata’s mom shared photos with NBCLA and said he’s struggled with his mental health for years. In fact, she says she’s called for help from Azusa police several times, as well as Alhambra police -- even a month before the murder.

On Feb. 2, Alhambra police responded to Zapata’s grandma’s house because family said he was threatening her with a large knife. Officers determined he was a danger to himself or others, so they say took him to Exodus Medical Center in Los Angeles where he was released hours later.

Joseph Markus, Zapata's defense attorney said this was weeks before he killed the 17-year-old victim.

"He had a weapon, a knife, in his possession," Markus said.

A month after that release, police were back at his grandma’s house where they arrested Zapata for murder and attempted murder.

"The family attempted to do everything they could," Markus said. "It’s terrible. It’s a horrific circumstance that clearly could have been prevented, that everybody was trying to prevent."

In addition to the mental health history that wasn’t reported, NBCLA was also told police were looking for a driver who drove David Zapata to the murder scene at King Torta.

"We know for a fact that there was somebody that drove Zapata away from the first scene," LAPD's Ryan Rabbett said.  

Late last month Gascón's office quietly determined they will not be charging the person who drove Zapata to King Torta.

"It’s shameful and I’ll just put it that way," Markus, Zapata's attorney, said.

The rejection said in part “there is insufficient evidence to prove the suspect aided and abetted the murder or was guilty of accessory after the fact.”

"What did they do in this investigation to verify in fact that the driver did not have knowledge? And how can they say someone who drives someone away from the scene of a killing, with a knife, isn’t an accessory after the fact?" Markus said.

NBCLA reached out to the DA's office to ask these question, but received no response yet. The office did send a statement that said in part “if we receive additional evidence we will reevaluate the case and may file appropriate charges at that time.” 

"To reject the case on insufficient evidence shows a complete lack of knowledge on what’s going on here," Markus said.

As the case continues to move through the courts, it appears police and prosecutors haven’t informed the public of a few key developments.

Zapata’s family believes those developments prove the system failed.

NBCLA also reached out to Exodus Medical Center asking why Zapata was released in February.

NBCLA also reached out to the families of Xavier Chavarin and Daniel Villalobos regarding the latest developments.

NBCLA requested an on-camera interview with Gascón, to ask why the driver isn't being charged.

So far, NBCLA has not heard back.

Contact Us