By Frank Girardot
COVINA – Relatives and friends Monday remembered the youngest victim of a Christmas Eve massacre that left nine dead as a good-hearted young man who loved baseball and computers. Michael Ortiz, 17, of Ontario, attended Ontario High School and pitched for the Jaguars baseball team, according to Margaret and Benny Medina of Diamond Bar, his aunt and uncle.
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Margaret said Ortiz had attended a family gathering in Alhambra earlier Christmas Eve, but slipped away to attend a party at his grandparent’s home on East Knollcrest Drive in Covina.
“This was going to be his last year of high school,” Margaret said as tears streamed down her face. “He had so much ahead of him.”
Bruce Pardo, 45, of Montrose, arrived at East Knollcrest Drive about 11:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. Police said he systematically killed nine people attending the party at the home of Joseph and Alicia Ortega. After he unloaded four semi-automatic handguns, Pardo’s homemade flamethrower exploded causing the Ortega’s home to burn to the ground. Ortiz and his mother, Alicia Ortiz, have been missing since. Two of Michael’s sisters, who also attended the party were able to escape physical injury.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner said the bodies recovered from the home were so badly burned that it may be several days before any can be positively identified. The Medinas said they heard news about what would become the Christmas Eve massacre, while they were still celebrating with family members in Alhambra. Margaret said her brother, Charlie, got a phone call and immediately left for Covina in hopes of finding his son.
He waited outside the home for the entire night, calling his son’s name and looking through shrubbery for some sign, she said. “It’s heartbreaking,” said Roxanne Jauregui, a family friend of 30 years. “When Michael’s father got to the house it was already engulfed. He knew his wife and children were in there but he didn’t know anything. He waited all night for his son to come out of the bushes.”
Family members believe Michael was on an upstairs computer sending an e-mail and was not shot, but killed when Pardo’s flamethrower exploded.
Chris Romero, Michael’s baseball coach, said he was shocked to learn the news Monday afternoon. “He was a good kid with good grades,” Romero said. “This is tragic.”
Romero said he knew Ortiz had taken advanced courses and “definitely was college bound.” Michael had made the varsity team last year and played baseball for the Jaguars since he was a freshmen, he said. “He was a natural leader and kids gravitate to that,” he said. With the school on break, Romero said he doesn’t expect to address Michael’s teammates until they return from the break on Jan 5. “Very bright kid with a very bright future,” he said.
As his wife shook with sadness, Benny recalled how loving and close-knit the Ortega family had been. “They did everything together,” he said. “It will never be the same. It will be with us until we are gone.”
Staff writers Amanda Baumfeld and Lizet Marquez contributed to this story.
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