During a fatal early-morning encounter following a police helicopter pursuit, a Los Angeles police officer shot and killed Patrick Vallor, a 22-year-old marine decorated for combat service, who earlier that evening murdered a transgendered prostitute in Hollywood.
A lance corporal stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base near Palm Springs, Vallor earlier that night picked up 25-year-old Feliciano Moreno near the intersection of Melrose and Western Avenues in Hollywood, an area known for transgender prostitution.
According to Det. Wendy Berndt, a police spokeswoman in the Hollywood Division, Vallor and Moreno engaged in sexual activity, after which Vallor shot Moreno twice, including a fatal head shot, with a .45-caliber pistol. Berndt said that after a conversation with the dead marine’s mother, police determined that Vallor owned the gun and it was not military-issue.
Following the murder on a block near Melrose Avenue, Vallor dumped Moreno’s body in a cul-de-sac, drawing the attention of a resident who called police with a description of Vallor’s car. A helicopter responding to the call identified the car and a pursuit involving police cars ensued. When cornered by police, according to a police statement, Vallor exited his car and, after refusing to comply with orders to surrender, police fired a non-lethal beanbag round, a projectile that “affords police the opportunity to make an arrest,” said Berndt.
However, the device failed to subdue Vallor, who then drew a gun.
“Two-year veteran Officer Mario Jacinto, in fear of his safety, fired his service handgun at Vallor,” said the police department press release.
Paramedics pronounced Vallor dead at the scene.
Citing department regulations that govern shooting investigations, Berndt refused to comment on how many shots Jacinto fired at Vallor, or what type of gun the marine was carrying.
Apparently, before he fled his vehicle during the police pursuit, Vallor used a cell phone to speak with his mother and sister. One news account has Vallor stating that he killed Moreno for trying to carjack his vehicle, an account Berndt, the police spokeswoman, discounted, saying there was no evidence of an attempted robbery. Other news accounts cited Vallor as getting enraged upon learning that Moreno was in fact a male.
“There is no mistaking the fact the victim was clearly a man, in women’s clothes,” said Berndt, apparently to counter suggestions that Moreno sought to deceive Vallor. Berndt described the area where the crime occurred as being known for transgender prostitution, unlike a nearby area frequented by gay hustlers and johns.
According to Vivianna Hernandez, a transgendered woman who works in Los Angeles’ Gay and Lesbian Center as a victims’ advocate, Moreno self-identified as a woman, wore female clothing and used Felicia as her first name.
“She self-identified as a transgendered female,” said Hernandez, who characterized Moreno as an affable person who attended meetings at an HIV prevention site set up for the Latino community.
“Compared to my age, I saw a lot of innocence and she was a humble person,” said Hernandez, who added that she was unsure if Moreno had undergone any gender reassignment surgery. Hernandez said that Moreno was an undocumented immigrant “maybe from Mexico, maybe from El Salvador,” who likely engaged in sex work in order to make money to survive.
At the time of his death, Vallor, an Idaho native, was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, a sprawling 932-square mile complex in the Mojave Desert, several hours from Los Angeles. According to an e-mail statement by Marine Corps Sgt. Jennie Haskamp, a media relations official at the base, Vallor was a cook in the mess hall of the First Tank Battalion, but was on temporary duty in the provost marshal’s office, a military police detail.
According to Haskamp’s statement, between January and July, 2003, Vallor was “deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom,” theaters that cover the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other nations involved in the war on terror. Haskamp did not specify where Vallor was stationed or what his official duties were. For his time abroad and apparent meritorious service, Vallor was awarded five medals, including one established after the September 11attacks for service against terrorism. For a short time in February of this year, Vallor returned to the Iraqi theater and completed an assignment in Kuwait, apparently in support of a Marine unit about to be deployed in Iraq. In a telephone interview, Haskamp declined to elaborate.
As for Vallor’s apparent claim that he murdered Moreno in response to the victim’s deception, as related to Los Angeles police by Vallor’s mother, the only person, along with a sister, who spoke to the marine before his apprehension, Hernandez said: “Between 2 and 6 a.m., that area around Western and Melrose gets very busy. It’s very popular,” adding, “Anybody that goes to that particular area knows what they are getting into. In Los Angeles, it’s one of the few places to find transgendered sex workers and in Hollywood, the only place. It’s very popular.”
Vallor’s family could not be reached for comment.
Hernandez said that Moreno’s murder is the second killing of a “transgendered sex worker” to take place since August, when Bella Martinez, 24, was found shot to death in her apartment close to the Melrose intersection.
“My concern is that in this case,” said Hernandez of Moreno’s murder, “the perpetrator has been caught, but in the earlier case no suspect has yet been identified.”