Editor’s note: The following story is the sixth installment of a seven-part series looking at six murders in 2017.
Brayan Rodriguez was born a “beautiful soul,” according to his younger brother Alex, on Feb. 4, 1997, in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
Upon moving to the Santa Clarita Valley at age 11, he quickly found his voice. He embraced a love of music, joined the choir at Valencia High School and, in the process, made scores of friends who described him as intelligent, gentle and caring.
So, when he went missing on Sept. 22, scores of people, young and old, turned out to look for him.
On Sept. 24, he was found dead inside a Valencia home, the victim of strangulation, the SCV’s fifth homicide in 2017.
Rodriguez was last seen near Valencia Glen Park on Via Valer on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 22. It quickly became Ground Zero for the weekendlong search.
Joining searchers was the young man’s boyfriend of 14 weeks, Christian Alexander Ortiz.
During the search, Ortiz told The Signal that Rodriguez had “stormed off after Ortiz made a joke about transgenderism,” and was allegedly offended.
When asked where he was going, Rodriguez said he was going to a friend’s house, according to Ortiz.
Rodriguez’s cell phone was found in a trash can at Valencia Glen Park.
“This is just completely out of his character,” Ortiz told The Signal. “I don’t know why he would do this. He definitely wouldn’t ignore his family, that’s the big issue.”
Within 48 hours of his disappearance, a search party of at least 30 people formed at the park.
Heading the search was Darlene Ocasek, a friend of the Rodriguez family.
Being that Rodriguez is over the age of 18, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station initially considered the incident a “voluntary missing adult,” Sgt. Tim Vander Leek said that weekend.
By late Sunday afternoon, to the shock of searchers, the body of Brayan Rodriguez was found in the home where Ortiz lived with his family on Via Valer.
“The decedent was found unresponsive in a closet,” a report prepared by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner reads.
Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics, responding to the 911 call, pronounced Rodriguez at 4:20 p.m. Sept. 24.
“The decedent was last seen alive entering the residence two days earlier at 4:20 p.m. with suspect,” the report reads.
“They got into an argument and the decedent reportedly stormed off,” the report states without naming who was with Rodriguez. On the morning of Sept. 24, someone viewed the residence security camera footage and saw the decedent” arrive at the Via Valer residence on Sept. 22 but never leave.
People searching the house entered a bedroom and found the closet barricaded with a small dresser and futon frame, the report states
“(Officials) moved them and partially moved the sliding door of the closet and discovered the decedent unresponsive and cold,” the report reads.
Calls were made to 911 shortly before 4 p.m. that Sunday.
Sgt. Robert Gray told the coroner that through an interview the decedent found “erotic asphyxiation online,” and that “they had performed erotic asphyxiation to each other around five to seven times in the past month.”
The name of the other person with Rodriguez during this practice was cut from the coroner’s report supplied to The Signal.
Another person — the name’s redacted from the report — held Rodriguez in a “one arm choke hold from behind.”
The other times they performed erotic asphyxiation the decedent would pass out for a few seconds then regain consciousness, the report reads.
“This time he passed out and did not regain consciousness,” it reads.
The unnamed person with Rodriguez tried to perform CPR for about 20 minutes then redressed the decedent and put him in the closet.
Prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office believe the person responsible for Rodriguez’s death is Ortiz.
Prosecutors, in their felony complaint filed against Ortiz on Sept. 27, allege Christian Alexander Ortiz “unlawfully and with malice aforethought murder Brayan R., a human being.”
Ortiz was arrested the day Rodriguez’s body was found.
On Friday, Ortiz is scheduled to appear in San Fernando Superior Court for a preliminary hearing.
During a preliminary hearing, prosecutors will present evidence in the case, and the defense can respond; the judge can then decide if the case should go to trial.
Ortiz, remains in custody in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility with bail set at $2 million.
A Celebration of Life held for Rodriguez at College of the Canyons on Oct. 14, summed up the life of a gentle intelligent caring young man.
Overcome with emotion, his younger brother handed Darlene Ocasek the eulogy he had written.
“Brayan was the kindest person,” Ocasek told The Signal Monday. “And, still has a positive impact on people’s lives.”
Those attending the event learned of a young man who began singing at age three and never stopped until he was ultimately silenced.
Described as an exemplary student with discipline and responsibility, Brayan Rodriguez found himself drawn to biology and by 9th Grade he was convinced of becoming a forensic pathologist.
Brayan Rodriguez took that passion and determination with him to COC.
“At College of the Canyons, he graduated with honors, earning a math and science transfer degree,” college spokesman Eric Harnish told The Signal.
He graduated from COC in June 2017. But, his dreams and plans, didn’t stop there.
Every UC college he applied for accepted him, but Brayan, according to his younger brother, “ultimately decided he’d go to his dream college, the University of California, San Diego.”
“Brayan Jose Rodriguez-Colon was an incoming transfer student majoring in Human Biology at Muir College,” Juan González, vice chancellor-Student Affairs, at UC San Diego, told The Signal.
To know Brayan, his brother wrote, was to have a lifelong gift, because he was an uplifting inspiration to those around him, as a son; as a brother; as a friend; as a student; as a worker.
He was a person who only spread positivity and change for the better in the world around him.
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt