Santa Clarita drug store employee arrested for deadly 1993 arson

A poster with photos of suspects Ramiro Valerio (left), Joseph Monge (right) and Johanna Lopez (bottom) is displayed at a Los Angeles Police Department news conference Monday. The three were arrested in connection with a deadly 1993 arson. (Source: KABC-TV)

A Palmdale man who worked in Santa Clarita was arrested in connection with a 1993 arson fire in Los Angeles that ultimately killed 12 people, two of them unborn.

Ramiro Alberto Valerio was handcuffed and led to a Los Angeles Police Department vehicle Friday outside a Santa Clarita retail drugstore, according to Robbery-Homicide Detective Mitzi Roberts.

The 43-year-old man, who is a main suspect in the decades-old arson, held a position at the store at the time of his arrest, Roberts said. Investigators did not release the exact location.

On May 3, 1993, at about 4:40 p.m., a fire, believed to have been intentionally started, erupted inside an apartment complex on the 300 block of South Burlington Avenue near downtown Los Angeles.

The blaze was apparently started to intimidate an apartment manager and others who wanted to rid the building of drug dealers, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey revealed at a Monday morning press conference inside LAPD headquarters.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced the arrest of three people tied to a 1993 arson at a conference Monday. (Source: KABC-TV)

Three women and seven children died after the fire swept through the 69-unit apartment building. Two of the women were pregnant at the time, bringing the total number of victims who perished in the blaze to 12.

Amid an era of gang-related crime and intimidation, investigators struggled to nab the culprits behind the arson because witnesses refused to step forward, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck explained.

“This case is a reminder of what it was like to live in Los Angeles County in early 1990s when drug-fueled violence was at its height,” Lacey said.

The arson case went cold for two decades until it got a fresh pair of eyes from detectives in the LAPD Robbery-Homicide division.

Additional witnesses came forward and investigators arrested Valerio and 41-year-old Joseph Monge of Montebello.

Valerio is being held in a Van Nuys jail on $25 million bail.

On Tuesday, authorities plan to arrest 51-year-old Johanna Lopez, a woman already in police custody. Investigators are still working to track down a fourth suspect, but they couldn’t release any additional information about that person in order to protect their ability to apprehend him.

Valerio, Lopez and Monge were apparently involved in the sales of narcotics in and around the complex and were responsible for starting the fire that killed 12 people, a Monday afternoon LAPD news release stated.

“Today, I’m proud to say we are finally seeking justice on their behalf,” Lacey said from behind a podium.

Roberts said a driving force behind continuing the investigation was the memory of a young child identified during an interview with a man who lived in the apartment complex in 1993.

The girl came to the man’s apartment shortly before the blaze broke out to return a large pot her mother had borrowed to make tamales, the detective explained.

The utensil was returned filled with food the child’s family had made as a kind gesture for allowing them the use of the pot.

The man came forward after the blaze and inquired to the girl’s whereabouts, Roberts said.

The young girl had perished in the fire.

“We did it for her,” Roberts said.

“She represents all the victims.”

After 23 years, Robbery-Homicide detectives believe the child is another step closer to justice.

“This case was so horrific and had such an impact on everyone involved,” Beck said.

“We never gave up.”

The district attorney’s office will seek to file 12 counts of capital murder charges against Valerio, Monge and Lopez in connection to the arson, Lacey said.

After a preliminary hearing, prosecutors will determine whether or not they will seek the death penalty against the suspects who could face charges under the special circumstances of multiple murders committed in the commission of an arson or financial gain.

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