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Suspect in Moreno Valley teen's slaying was 'creepy,' neighbor says

October 21, 2011 | 11:42 am

Photo: Moreno Valley police, managed by the Riverside County Sheriff, closed off Theodore Street and set-up an investigation post after discovery of Norma Lopez's remains in a field at the intersection of Dracaea Avenue in Moreno Valley. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Neighbors of the suspect arrested in the kidnapping and murder of a Moreno Valley teenager described him as “weird” and “creepy.”

Jesse Perez Torres, 35, was arrested Thursday in connection with the murder of Norma Lopez, 17, who was kidnapped last year near Valley View High School.

At the time, Torres and his wife, Veronica, lived in the 13000 block of Creekside Way, directly across the street from the high school.

“We really didn’t know him that well,” said neighbor Helen Silva, 26. “He was kind of creepy. He kept to himself a lot.”

Silva said Torres would sometimes walk around the neighborhood looking at everyone, which made her feel uneasy. She said police came to her house one day to ask if she or her husband had heard any noise from the Torres’ house that may be part of a domestic disturbance.

She said that sometimes Torres would ask her strange questions the few times they spoke, including one instance in which he asked if she knew anything about domestic violence.

“I never talked to him,” Silva said. “I never wanted to be around him.” Silva said she almost never saw his wife, but believed they had two young sons.

“It’s really disturbing,” she said of Torres’ arrest.

According to court records, Torres had been charged with battery on a spouse and assault with a deadly weapon in February 2010. The case was dismissed in September of that year when the Riverside County district attorney’s office said that they were unable to locate his wife, Victoria, on the day the trial was to begin.

Silva’s husband, David, said he remembered when Lopez was abducted and later found dead, saying he and his wife had just moved into the neighborhood from Riverside.

“When it happened, we were shocked," he said. “My wife didn’t want to let our kids play outside.”

He said he had no reason to suspect Torres was capable of such a thing, but again thought his neighbor had acted strangely.

“I knew he was a little weird,” he said. “It’s crazy... to live right next door. He could have done something to us.”

The Torreses moved from the neighborhood about six months ago, he said.

Lopez was reported missing on July 15, 2010, by her older sister, Sonja, after she failed to show up at a friend's home following her summer biology class. She was out of school by 10 a.m. and planned to meet her older sister and a friend.

Investigators said they found some of Norma's belongings, as well as signs of a struggle, in a vacant field along Cottonwood Avenue, a popular shortcut among students.

Lopez's body was found in a grassy field five days later by a resident doing yardwork in an isolated area just off the 60 Freeway that is surrounded by vast wheat fields.

Lopez's father said police came to the family's home Thursday night at 7 p.m. and told them the police had a suspect in custody. Torres was arrested in Long Beach on suspicion of murder and kidnapping and is being held at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, with bail set at $1 million, police said.


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Photo: Law enforcement officials close off Theodore Street in Moreno Valley and set up an investigation post after Norma Lopez's remains were discovered in a field last year. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times