New details in the officer-involved shooting death of actress Vanessa Marquez reveal a heartbreaking chain of events that escalated into a rapid series of shots fired inside the home in the heart of South Pasadena, according to witnesses at or near the home last Thursday.
A witness, who spoke to the SouthPasadenan on the condition of anonymity, heard more than a dozen shots, followed by a pause, then another four before the tense 90-minute episode came to an end.
Minutes later, according to sources, paramedics were seen carrying Marquez out of the multi-tenant home, propping her onto a bright orange gurney, administering what appeared to be CPR and then placing a blanket over Marquez’s entire body and face. She was then transported to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, where police say is where she was pronounced dead.
On the one-week anniversary of the death of Marquez, witness accounts support in many ways details that have been disclosed by close friends — and even Marquez herself, via her prolific social media posts. They paint a picture of a frail, terminally ill woman who had recently swore never again to go to a hospital.
In the end, it appears it was the threat of being taken to a hospital that may have fatally escalated the situation.
“It bothered me. I asked myself, ‘Why did they have to do it?’” the witness said of police. “But [Marquez] gave them no choice. They didn’t know she wouldn’t harm them.”
Police, who were called to Marquez’s apartment for a wellness check, would not confirm the witness accounts, citing two investigations underway by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office. On Thursday afternoon, however, they provided additional details in response to questions raised by the SouthPasadenan.
Marquez was shot in the torso, according to police, after pulling out what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon that later was determined to be a BB-style gun.
According to the witness, as many as 19 shots were fired in quick succession, an account Lt. Joe Mendoza, of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, disputed.
“I can tell you that 19 shots is inaccurate,” said Mendoza, who would not provide an exact number due to the investigations. “It was less than 19 shots.”
The interior walls and doors of the two-story home were sprayed with bullets, according to a source, leaving damages in the thousands of dollars.
On Wednesday, repairmen worked to patch and repaint the walls with a fresh coat of white paint. A window on the first floor that had been damaged in the fray and had been temporarily covered with plywood over the weekend was replaced. A wooden baluster at the top of the inside stairwell, steps from Marquez’s apartment, was removed.
Why did police open fire?
The witness said officers had to bang on Marquez’s door initially to awaken her from a deep sleep and agreed with initial police accounts that say Marquez appeared to be “gravely ill” when officers arrived. Police have said Marquez was experiencing seizures.
Marquez’s small one-bedroom unit in which she lived for 14 years was overflowing with boxes, many of them unopened, some displaying the logos of Amazon Prime and the U.S. Postal Service. Officers were forced to move boxes and other clutter aside in order to access the apartment.
When they found Marquez, “She looked like she was dead,” said the witness. “But [eventually] she awoke and screamed when an officer touched her to wake her up.”
The witness also supported police reports that Marquez was later uncooperative with officers during the 90 minutes they were with her prior to the shooting. The witness described officers as being “very kind and professional with Vanessa.”
Marquez told officers she had not eaten in 5 days, but later assured them that she had recently eaten a meal she ordered by delivery. After 30 minutes of discussions with the officers, a mental health clinician arrived on the scene, the witness said. The discussions with Marquez continued.
At some point, it appeared the officers and the mental health specialist called fire rescue to help with the process of taking Marquez to a hospital as part of a “5150 hold,” according to the witness. The term refers to a section of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which allows a person who “as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled,” to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization.
“Vanessa said she would not go,” the witness said. Marquez complained about having previous problems after being taken to a local hospital. “They abuse me, they harass me,” Marquez reportedly told officers.
In a social media post on Aug. 21, Marquez recalled a traumatic experience she had also shared with friends. She spoke of having to go to the emergency room at a nearby hospital and enduring what she described as a humiliating experience at the hands of first responders.
She described hearing at least two paramedics stand in a hallway outside her hospital room, and laughing and discussing her personal details.
“I wasn’t human,” Marquez wrote. “No, I was a circus freak; their entertainment for the night.”
Marquez also spoke of a first responder making fun of her Star Wars memorabilia collection and referring to her home as a “sh**ty apartment.”
“I don’t care if I have a stroke. I’m never calling 911 or staying in a hospital again,” Marquez wrote Aug. 21, just 9 days before her death. “Let the chips fall as they may and may they hurry the [expletive] up! I’m done.”
The details of the final months of Marquez’s life provided by conversations with friends and social media writings depict a person who loved life and was a fighter. She made a name for herself in Hollywood at a time when there were few successful Latina actresses.
For years, Marquez also bravely battled crippling pain associated with the autoimmune disorder Celiac Disease, as well as complications from Fibromyalgia that at times left her bed-ridden and depressed.
Marquez once spoke of being “alone. Beyond definition.”
She also spoke and posted a lot about having an ongoing battle with her landlord. She described being fearful of eviction and believing that her landlord or someone else had been entering her home when she was not there, and even sometimes when she was.
She spoke of being horrified and pretending to be asleep in a bid to somehow protect herself.
“JEEZUS!!! My landlord or someone came into my apartment AGAIN,” she wrote on Facebook on April 27. “I pretended to be sleeping, but they didn’t come into my bedroom. Meanwhile, my heart is POUNDING IN MY THROAT!!! I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS ANY MORE! I CANNOT!”
She had become a woman who wrote of sleeping with pepper spray and scissors. She also recently disclosed buying a $28 BB-style gun, a Smith & Wesson replica.
“Is that a real gun? I don’t want it to be, but if it can scare someone enough to crap their pants GOOD,” Marquez wrote on June 25.
She told friends she feared eviction. She said the landlord or an employee had called police at least one time in recent months to check on her, an incident that left her even more fearful for her safety.
“Ever since the cops…,” she wrote on Facebook in April, “it scared me so much. I’m terrified.”
Then last Thursday, Marquez again found herself dealing with police. Law-enforcement officials say they were called in to check on Marquez’s well-being by her landlord. A witness told the SouthPasadenan that it was a relative who called 211.
According to the witness account, once it was clear Marquez would not go voluntarily for treatment, the tension quickly escalated:
Two fire fighters carried a gurney to the front porch. They then walked into the entrance of the home and began to walk upstairs when a voice from one of the officers who had been with Marquez yelled, “She’s got a gun! Run! Run!”
At that point, officers and firefighters ran out of the home, the witness said.
It appeared two officers pulled up in an unmarked car and parked a short distance from the home. They wore dark uniforms, the witness said, and immediately headed into the apartment building, which had the front door ajar.
“As soon as they walked in, I believe Vanessa began shooting,” the witness said. “I heard a ‘fooh’ sound,” the witness said, referring to the sound of a gun commonly referred to as Airsoft. “And then police opened fire.”
Mendoza, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, said it will likely take several months for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office to complete toxicology and other reports. Body camera footage also will not be made pubic for several months.
“We have not confirmed whether she fired her replica gun,” Mendoza told the SouthPasadenan on Thursday. “The crime lab is still looking at all of those things.”
Mendoza reiterated that Marquez was shot soon after producing what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun. He added that Marquez followed the officers out of her apartment toward the front door, a new detail that had not been previously released.
“That is where there shooting occurred,” he said. “Right at the front door of her residence.”
Mendoza also described for the first time that the gun replica that Marquez brandished was metal and appeared to have a releasable magazine.
“[It was] not something with a red tip like a child’s gun,” he said. “I have been around guns for 30 years, and if I saw it from far away I would have thought it was a real gun.”
Federal law requires that toy guns be transparent or display one of three attributes: a predominant color chosen from an approved list, a bright orange band around the muzzle, or a bright orange plug in the muzzle end of the barrel. These requirements do not apply to traditional B-B, paint-ball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel through the force of air pressure.
SWAT officers were not called to the scene.
“They did not have time to summon SWAT officers,” Mendoza said. “There may have been other units outside. It was something that happened pretty quickly.”
Mendoza also disclosed for the first time officially that two officers were involved in the shooting. One officer had been at Marquez’s home for the entire 90-minute visit and the officer involved arrived later, responding to reports of a person with a gun.
After displaying what looked like a weapon, Marquez was told to come out of her apartment unarmed. Police waited for several minutes, Mendoza said.
What unfolded next must be reviewed via witness statements, investigator reports and police body camera footage, Mendoza said.
He asked that any witness who may have seen what transpired to contact police.
She may have died on scene
In the aftermath, at least two witnesses told the SouthPasadenan that Marquez’s body was carried onto the porch and laid on a gurney. An officer checked her torso area, then appeared to attempt CPR chest compressions. He eventually pulled a blanket over Marquez’s body and face.
Pasadena resident Kate Samhat, who was at an appointment across the street during much of the 90-minute episode, corroborates what the witness who spoke to the SouthPasadenan saw on the porch.
Both Samhat and the other witness said from the looks of it, it appeared Marquez was already dead or at least unresponsive.
“They slowly loaded her into the ambulance,” she said. “They did not rush.”