West Covina man convicted of murdering transgender woman at Baldwin Park motel

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BALDWIN PARK >> A jury Friday convicted a West Covina man of the murder of a 26-year-old transgender woman who was ound beaten to death in a Baldwin Park motel in 2013.
A Pomona Superior Court Jury found Stephen Gonzales, 30, guilty of the first-degree murder of the victim known to loved ones as Melony Smith. She was listed by coroner’s officials under birth name, Vanhxay Inthichack.
Smith’s body was found about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2013, inside her room at a motel in the 13900 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner officials.
The jury found Gonzales not guilty of robbing Smith, though they did convict Gonzales of the lesser offense of petty theft, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
The jury also did not find true the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of robbery, which would have made Gonzales eligible for capital punishment.
Despite the jury’s decision not to convict Gonzales of robbery, prosecutors believe that was motive in the killing, Ardalani said.
“Our office believes Gonzales wanted to rob the victim of her property,” Ardalani said.
Leticia Alvarado, who worked at the motel where Smith was staying on-and-off for about a year, said she became close friends with the “funny and outgoing” Smith, who she called, “sister.”
Smith, who moved away from home at age 16 because her family disapproved of her lifestyle, graduated Sierra Vista High School and worked for security company, Alvarado said shortly after the slaying.
Another friend of Smith’s, Misty Vale, said her friend had been saving up money to buy a car and planned to return to school to become a dental hygienist.
Gonzales faces a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison when he returns to court for sentencing Feb. 11, Ardalani said.

PHOTO: Melony Smith, 26. (Courtesy)

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Montebello man sentenced to death for 2010 Hawaiian Gardens triple-slaying

NORWALK >> A judge sentenced a Montebello man to death three times over Friday for a 2010 AK-47 attack on his ex-girlfriend’s family in Hawaiian Gardens, leaving three people dead and another seriously wounded.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Raul Sahagun ordered Joseph Mercado, 32, to death row for the early-morning May 6, 2010 triple-slaying that claimed the lives of his ex-girlfriend Serena Tarin, 23, her brother Alfredo Tarin Jr., 19, and her father Alfredo Tarin Sr., 54, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Also critically wounded in the rampage at the family’s home in the 21900 block of Devlin Avenue was Serena Tarin’s mother, who survived. Six additional family members fled from the home, some of them hiding on the roof of the home, which Mercado had doused with gasoline and set afire before breaking in through the back of the home and opening fire with an AK-47 assault rifle, authorities said.
A Norwalk jury convicted Mercado in November of 10 felony counts. They included three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder, first degree burglary, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, arson of an inhabited structure and child abuse.
The jury also found true the special circumstances of multiple murders, lying in wait and engaging in arson — each one making him eligible for the death penalty. The jury also found true the special allegations that Mercado personally used a firearm in the crimes and personally inflicted great bodily injury.
He was acquitted of a single count of assault with a deadly weapon.
The jury recommended Mercado be put to death for his crimes during the penatty phase of the trial, Ardalani said.
Following the shooting, Mercado was arrested after being shot by a sheriff’s deputy after exiting the home with his rifle still-in hand, officials said.
Mercado and Serena Tarin had an infant son together, sheriff’s investigators said. The 9-month-old child was unharmed in the incident.
Authorities said the shooting took place amid a custody dispute between Mercado and Tarin, who had been separated for several months.

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Charges filed against man accused of beating nephews to death in Arcadia

Arcadia High students and parents attend a vigil for slain students Anthony Lin, 15, and William Lin, 16, at the Arcadia, Calif. campus January 25, 2016. The brothers were allegedly beaten to death in their home by their uncle. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/Pasadena Star-News)

Arcadia High students and parents attend a vigil for slain students Anthony Lin, 15, and William Lin, 16, at the Arcadia, Calif. campus January 25, 2016. The brothers were allegedly beaten to death in their home by their uncle. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/Pasadena Star-News)

ARCADIA >> Prosecutors have filed murder charges against a San Gabriel Valley man accused of beating his two teenage nephews to death with a bolt cutter at their home in Arcadia last weekend, officials said Thursday.
Deyun Shi, also known as Jeff Shi, 44, was charged with two counts of murder, along with a count of domestic violence causing great bodily injury, as he awaits extradition proceedings in Hong Kong, where he was captured the day after the double-slaying, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said.
Deyun_ShiThe murder charges listed in an extradition arrest warrant obtained Wednesday are accompanied by “an allegation that the defendant used a deadly and dangerous weapon, a bolt cutter, in the commission of the crimes,” district attorney’s office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said in a written statement.
The domestic assault charge stems from an alleged attack on Shi’s estranged wife at her La Cañada home on Jan. 21, the day before the bodies of his nephews Anthony Lin, 15, and his brother William Lin, 16, were found by their mother at the family’s home in the 400 block of Fairview Avenue in Arcadia.
In the domestic attack, Shi is accused of striking his estranged wife with a maul, or wood-splitting hammer, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials.
Arraignment was to be scheduled later pending extradition proceedings, officials said.
“If convicted as charged, Shi faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison,” Santiago said.
Deputies began seeking Shi late Jan 21, after he allegedly attacked his wife with a wood-splitting tool, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The woman suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The parents of the Lin brothers had gone to check on the injured victim late on Jan. 21, Hernandez said. They returned home in the early morning hours Jan. 22 and did not notice anything wrong before they went to bed.
About 12:40 p.m., Anthony and William’s mother awoke and discovered her sons dead, officials said. One of the boys was found on the first floor of the two-story apartment situated on top of a parking garage. The other brother’s body was found upstairs.
Shi is married to the sister of the slain brothers’ father, Hernandez said.
The manhunt for Shi intensified following the discovery of his nephews’ body.
His alleged violent crime spree began after he learned his wife had filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against him, investigators said.
He was detained when his airplane landed in Hong Kong, officials said. Detectives initially said his ultimate destination may have been Beijing.
Officials said Shi had been staying with a friend in Alhambra and conducted business in San Gabriel at the time of the crimes.
Community members honored the Lin brothers Monday during a vigil at their school, Arcadia High School, where Anthony was a freshman and William was a junior, according to Arcadia Unified School District officials.

DONATIONS: https://www.gofundme.com/neverforgetlin

 

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UPDATED: Man accused of killing teenage nephews in Arcadia detained in Hong Kong

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ARCADIA >> A man sought in the beating deaths of his teenage nephews in Arcadia, as well as an attack on his wife in La Canada Flintridge, is in custody after being apprehended in Hong Kong, authorities confirmed Saturday.
Deyun Shi, 44, boarded an airplane Friday after his 15- and 16-year-old nephews were found slain inside their home in the 400 block of Fairview Avenue in Arcadia, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
“Detectives learned that after suspect, Deyun Shi’s plane arrived at the Hong Kong airport, he was taken into custody by Hong Kong authorities,” according to Deputy Grace Medrano of the sheriff’s Information Bureau.
“Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will work with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, The United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong to initiate the extradition of Deyun Shi,” Medrano said.
The FBI was assisting in the apprehension, “by coordinating with the FBI’s Legal Attache and law enforcement authorities in Hong Kong, where the suspect has been taken into custody pending further review by officials in the United States and Hong Kong,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a written statement.
Arcadia Unified School District officials identified the victims as Anthony Lin, 15, and his brother William Lin, 16.
0124_NWS_PSN-L-SHI3Both attended Arcadia High School, where Anthony was a freshman and William was a junior, AUSD spokesman Ryan Foran said.
“We are beyond saddened to learn of the death of the Lin brothers,” AUSD officials said in a written statement. “The loss of William and Anthony will be felt by the thousands of students, staff, friends and family that loved and knew them well in our tight-knit community. We know our community will stand united as we go through this unthinkable tragedy together.”
The night before the bodies of the Lin brothers were discovered, Shi attacked his wife with a wood-splitting tool in La Canada Flintridge, inflicting serious injuries, after learning she had filed for divorce, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
At some point afterward, Shi allegedly made his was to the home of his wife’s brother, which he shared with his wife and their two teenage sons.
The parents of the slain teens had been visiting with Shi’s injured wife until the early morning hours Friday, and they noticed nothing amiss when they returned home and went to bed.
The boys were discovered fatally beaten when the parents awoke early Friday afternoon. It was unclear exactly when the killings took place.
Shi was already being sought for the attack on his wife when he was identified as the suspect in the double-homicide investigation, Hernandez said.
In the hours that followed the discovery of the teens’ bodies, detectives recovered Hsi’s SUV and learned that His, who had been staying with a friend in Alhambra, had boarded an airplane to China, officials said.
Officials initially said his ultimate destination was believed to be Beijing.
China has no extradition treaty with the U.S. for the return of wanted fugitives. Hong Kong, however, does.
The crime scene investigation at the Lin family apartment had concluded Saturday. A memorial of flowers, notes and a chemistry text book in front of Lin home continued growing as neighbors and loved ones paid their respects.
“I can’t imagine the pain of the parents,” said one emotional neighbor as she left a note at the memorial.
Prior to high school, both brothers attended Dana Middle School, Foran said.
AUSD officials offered condolences to the Lin family and asked the community respect the family’s privacy during “this extremely difficult time.”
“While this tragedy did not happen on campus, it will undoubtedly have an enormous impact throughout all our schools,” the AUSD statement continued. “We will provide additional counselors and support services this week when students return to school, and for as long as they are needed.”
A vigil was planned for 6 p.m. Monday at Arcadia High School, Foran said.

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PHOTO by Walt Mancini

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UPDATED: Teenage brothers found beaten to death in Arcadia apartment, uncle sought


ARCADIA >> Homicide detectives are seeking a man they say beat his two teenage nephews to death inside their Arcadia apartment Friday.
The bodies of the two brothers, ages 15 and 16, were discovered by their parents at about 12:40 p.m. at the family home in the 400 block of Fairview Avenue, just west of Holly Avenue, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
Deyun_ShiThe suspect in the double slaying, the victims’ 44-year-old uncle by marriage, Deyun Shi, remained at large Friday night. Investigators said the suspect was believed to have boarded an airplane to China sometime Friday. The FBI was working with Chinese authorities.
Hernandez declined to discuss what type of weapon was used in the attack, but said both victims appeared to have suffered “blunt force trauma.”
One of the bodies was found upstairs and the other downstairs, Hernandez said. The two-story apartment sits on top of a parking garage.
Hernandez said that at the time the slayings were discovered, Shi was already being sought in connection with an attack on his wife Thursday night in La Cañada Flintridge.
“He found out his wife had filed a restraining order against him and began divorce proceedings,” Hernandez said. “That may have been a motive. We’re not sure,” Hernandez said.
Shi’s wife was treated for serious injuries suffered when her husband hit her with a tool of some sort, he said. The injury was not life-threatening.
Officials said the fugitive suspect was married to the sister of the slain boys’ father.
ARCBODY1The parents of the victims, who lived at the Arcadia apartment with their sons, went to visit the victim of the domestic assault late Thursday.
They arrived home late at night and didn’t notice anything wrong before going to bed, Hernandez said. When they awoke the following day, they discovered their sons dead.
It was unclear exactly when the killings took place.
There were signs of forced entry to the home, Hernandez said. It appeared the killer may have forced his way through the apartment’s front door.
Deputies recovered Shi’s GMC Yukon SUV Friday, but the alleged killer himself remained at large.
“Detectives have recovered the suspect vehicle and have learned that the suspect has boarded a plane to Beijing, China,” according to Deputy Lisa Jansen of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
Sheriff’s investigators were working with the FBI and law enforcement officials in China to apprehend the international fugitive, authorities said.
Shi is Chinese, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 155 pounds, with black hair and black eyes, according to a sheriff’s department wanted flier.
He is known to frequent the Santa Anita Inn, 130 W. Huntington Drive in Arcadia, stays with a friend in Alhambra and conducts business in San Gabriel, officials said.
Several residents said they didn’t see or hear anything unusual prior to officers swarming the neighborhood Friday.
Hari Gampala, 45, said he was home all day and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. The apartment complex appeared calm and quiet when he walked by it about 11:45 a.m., he said.
Many neighbors expressed shock to see a homicide investigation unfolding in their normally sedate suburb. And even more so once they learned the victims were two teenage boys.
Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau are assisting Arcadia police in the investigation, and Arcadia police officials deferred comment to their counterparts in the sheriff’s department.
Anyone with information is asked to contact homicide detectives at 323-890-5500. Tips also may be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

SCENE PHOTO by Walt Mancini

SUSPECT PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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Woman guilty of stabbing another woman to death in South Whittier

SOUTH WHITTIER >> A jury convicted a woman Thursday for the fatal stabbing of the fatal stabbing of another woman during a an argument along a residential street last year.
A Norwalk Superior Court jury deliberated for one day before finding Vanessa Rebecca Celaya, also known as Vanessa Cella, 30, of Rubidoux, guilty of second-degree murder for the Sept. 5 stabbing in the 11500 block of Obert Avenue, in the unincorporated county area of South Whittier, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
The jury also convicted Cella of robbery, and found true the special allegation that she personally used a knife in the slaying.
Killed in the stabbing was Michelle Alexis Young, 31, of Los Angeles, coroner officials said.
The two women did not know one another before they met by chance on the street, Ardalani said.
“The defendant thought the victim was talking about her,” Ardalani said. It was later determined the victim had not been talking about Celaya.
“Celaya walked up to victim Michelle Young and the two women had a verbal exchange. At some point, the defendant stabbed Young several times,” district attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
Paramedics pronounced Young dead at the scene.
“Following the assault, Celaya broke into a tire shop, threatened a security guard inside and demanded a change of clothing before leaving the store,” according to the statement.
Deputies quickly apprehended Celaya nearby, officials said.
Celaya faces up to 18 years in state prison when she returns to court for sentencing March 8.

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Man accidentally released from jail, recaptured in Mexico, sentenced for Baldwin Park shooting; mistrial declared on murder charge

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BALDWIN PARK >> An Al Monte gang member who was accidentally released from custody, then-recaptured in Mexico, while awaiting trial for two separate Baldwin Park shootings received a lifetime prison sentence last week, authorities said.
A Pomona Superior Court jury convicted Johnny Mata, 34, of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in August, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. The jurors hung on additional charges of murder, and a second county of possession of a firearm by a felon. Prosecutors were yet to decide whether to seek a retrial for Mata on those counts.
Judge Thomas C. Falls sentenced Mata Friday to life in prison, plus 25 years behind bars, Ardalani said.
Mata, along with Jesus Arroyo Lule, 34, of El Monte and Christina Montenegro, 27, were initially arrested in connection a n allegedly gang-related shooting that left 34-year-old David Anthony Deanda of Baldwin Park dead on Christmas Eve, 2010, in the 13200 block of Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles county sheriff’s and district attorney’s officials said.
Lule pleaded “no contest” to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in 2014 for Deanda’s slaying and is scheduled to be sentenced by Pomona Superior Court Judge Mike Camacho on Jan. 29, Ardalani said. A charge of attempted murder was dismissed as part of the plea arrangement.
Montenegro pleaded no contest to a charge of forgery in July of 2013, Ardalani said. A murder charge was dismissed, and Montenegro was sentenced to three years in county jail. Records indicate she has since served her time and been released.
Deanda, a welder, was survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter, family said.
District attorney’s officials declined to discuss the details of Deanda’s slaying pending the potential second murder trial to come.
Mata’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Though the jury failed to reach a verdict in the murder case, they convicted Mata of charges related to a second, separate shooting on April 21, 2012, in Baldwin Park.
Mata, described by authorities as an El Monte gang member, opened fire on a rival gang member in front of the victim’s home in Baldwin Park, Ardalani said. The intended target was not struck by the gunfire.
As he awaited trial, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials accidentally released Mata on April 4, 2013, as a result of what sheriff’s officials described as a clerical error. The erroneous release at the sheriff’s Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles occurred after a judge had dismissed an attempted murder charge against Mata, but not other charges, including murder.
El Monte police initially arrested Mata in May of 2012 after he ran from a stolen car, according to El Monte police Lt. David Vautrin.
Following his improper release by sheriff’s officials
After spending more than a year as a fugitive, Mexican authorities, aided by American investigators, found and re-captured Mata in Mexico in May of 2014 and returned him to the U.S. to face trial.

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Man arrested following quadruple-fatal Rowland Heights New Year’s Eve shooting released from jail

ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> A Rowland Heights man initially arrested on suspicion of murder after fatally shooting his father, who had just shot three other family members to death on New Year’s Eve, has been released from custody pending further investigation, according to officials and booking records.
Christopher John Morey, 33, was released from custody at the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar Station about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Los Angeles County booking records show. Detectives will still present their findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office later for consideration of potential charges.
Prior to his release Saturday afternoon, Morey had been held in lieu of $1 million bail.
He had been in custody since New Year’s Eve, when he shot his 54-year-old father, Michael John Morey, at the family home in the 2200 block of Batson Avenue, sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
Christopher Morey disarmed and shot his father after the elder Morey shot his bedridden wife, 54-year-old Betty Jean Morey, Christopher Morey’s 48-year-old girlfriend, Linda Patricia Merrell, and house guest Ernesto Calzadilla, 27, of Rowland Heights, authorities said.
The violence was preceded by an argument between Michael Morey and Merrell over the usage of a washing machine, Lt. John Corina of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
The home was littered with beer bottles, and Michael Morey was known to become agitated when drunk, according to investigators and neighbors.
Corina has said the investigation is now focusing on whether Michael Morey continued to pose a threat when his son shot him, Corina said. If that’s determined to be the case, the shooting could be ruled lawful self-defense.
Handling detectives could not be reached for comment Sunday, nor could Christopher Morey. It was unclear whether he was being represented by an attorney.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Man fatally shoots two family members, self, near wife’s grave at Ontario cemetery

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ONTARIO >> Authorities Sunday identified an Ontario man they say fatally shot two family members at his wife’s grave at the Bellevue Memorial Park before turning the gun on himself.
Karapet Kalajian died after slaying his brother-in-law Misak Minasyan, 60, and sister-in-law Hripsime Minasyan, 59, both of North Hollywood, just after 3 p.m. Saturday at the cemetery, 1240 W. G Street in Ontario, according to San Bernardino County coroner’s officials.
Kalajian and his relatives encountered each other at the cemetery the day before the anniversary of the death of Kalajian’s wife, Ontario police Sgt. Jeff Higbee said in a written statement. Kalajian’s wife, who was Hripsime Minasyan’s sister and Misak Minasyan’s sister-in-law, died on Jan. 3, 2011, following a “prolonged battle with cancer.”
“Kalajian has had difficulty dealing with the death of his wife and had become estranged from the family for more than a year,” Higbee said.
Kalajian was already at the cemetery, sitting in his car, when Misak Minasyan, Hripsime Minasyan and a another elderly family member arrived, police said. The elderly family member, also related to Kalajian by marriage, used a walker.
“The suspect got out of his car with a handgun and walked directly toward the victims,” Higbee said. “He quickly shot one and then the other before turning the gun on himself. The woman with the walker was unharmed.”
The investigation is ongoing, and anyone with information is asked to contact Ontario police Detective Josh Burks at 909-395-2912. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to WeTip at 800-782-7463, or online at www.wetip.com.

PHOTO by Wil Lester

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Four killed in Rowland Heights New Year’s Eve shooting identified

ROWLAND HEIGHTS >> Authorities have identified four people fatally shot during what investigators described as a domestic dispute at a Rowland Heights home on New Year’s Eve.
Michael John Morey, 54, shot and killed his 54-year-old bedridden wife, Betty Jean Morey; his son’s 48-year-old girlfriend, Linda Patricia Merrell; and a 27-year-old house guest Ernesto Calzadilla of Rowland Heights before his son wrestled the handgun away from him, then fatally shot his father, according to Los Angeles County coroner and sheriff’s officials.
Michael Morey’s son, Christopher John Morey, was subsequently arrested on suspicion of the murder, Lt. John Corina of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. He was the lone survivor of the violence that unfolded just after 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the home in the 2200 block of Batson Avenue.
The Moreys, as well as Merrell, lived at the home, sheriff’s officials said. Calzadilla, a friend of Christopher Morey and Merrell, is survived by an 8-month-old daughter, according to his family.
Though the complex investigation remained in its early stages, Corina said the gunfire appeared to have been preceded by an argument over using the washing machine between Michael Morey and Merrell. Michael Morey was known to become agitated when drunk.
Neighbors and officials said the house was known for partying. It was littered with beer bottles following the shooting, and deputies reported responding to the home more than two-dozen times over the past three years for a variety of reasons.
Betty Morey was bedridden after suffering a stroke, Corina said.
Calzadilla’s brother, Wilfred Calzadilla, said Ernesto Calzadilla had expressed fear about the elderl Morey in the past, adding that he had a large collection of guns. A neighbor said Merrell has also expressed concerns about Michael Morey.
Christopher Morey remained jailed in lieu of $1 million bail Saturday pending a scheduled arraignment Monday in West Covina Superior Court.
Prosecutors will review the evidence to determine whether to file charges against Christopher Morey.
The potential case hinges on whether Michael Morey still posed a threat when his son shot him, Corina said.

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