Arrests made in South LA Craigslist murder

A Samsung Craigslist listing turns deadly | Photo Credit: Creative Commons

A Samsung Craigslist listing turns deadly | Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Sandra Balbuena was doing homework at her school in Irvine when she got the phone call.

She could tell right away by her aunt’s tone that something was wrong.

“Where’s my dad? Where’s my dad?” Sandra asked repeatedly.

“Mija, you need to calm down,” said Sandra’s aunt, Ana Guerrero, over the phone. “Your daddy was shot.”

At a police press conference on Oct. 28 announcing the arrest of two suspects, Sandra Balbuena, a 19-year-old UC Irvine student, described the painful moment when she learned that her father and brother had been shot.

Markell Thomas, 18, and Ryan Roth, 17, have been charged with murder, attempted murder, robbery and gang affiliations, according to LAPD.

On Oct. 19, Sandra’s father and brother responded to a Craigslist advertisement for a $300 Samsung Galaxy cellphone in the 9200 block of South Gramercy Place in South Los Angeles, said police.

They had no idea it was a trap.

Rene Balbuena, 41, and his 15-year-old son, Steven, texted the men who had posted the Craigslist ad and sat waiting in their car around 7:30 p.m. that Saturday, said Detective Chris Barling at the press conference Monday.

Thomas and Roth approached the car and demanded their property, according to police. Thomas allegedly entered the rear passenger door and pointed his gun at the 15-year-old boy.

Balbuena proceeded to exit the vehicle and was fatally shot three times in his torso by Roth, said police. His son suffered a bullet graze wound.

Sandra said she was the first family member to show up at the hospital after the attack. When she saw her brother in a neck-brace underneath blood-soaked sheets, she realized things were much worse than she had anticipated.

“Steven was worried,” Sandra said, recalling those first moments at the hospital. “He’s like, ‘I’m okay, I’m okay. I didn’t even notice I got shot, but I’m really worried about dad.’”

She choked up then, recounting the difficult experience of breaking the news to her little brother.

Their father was dead.

Thomas is believed to have been involved with at least seven other robberies between Aug. 2 and Oct. 7 involving similar Craigslist postings about a Samsung phone throughout the Baldwin Hills area, according to Barling. Both suspects are being charged as adults.

Family members have been streaming in and out of Balbuena’s South Gate home since the murder took place.

Neighbors of the close-knit community all expressed sadness about what happened and said that Balbuena was a good father.

“He was responsible,” said Juan Martinez, Balbuena’s next-door neighbor. “He was always working and always taking care of his kids.”

Although the arrests brought some consolation to Balbuena’s family, the Balbuenas made clear that legal action wouldn’t lessen the pain of their loss.

“My dad was my best friend,” said Sandra. “He was everything to me and nothing’s going to bring him back.”

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This story was originally published on Neon Tommy. Follow Guest Contributor Anna Sterling on Twitter.