If anyone ever wondered what motivates a homicide cop to do what he or she does, they should've seen Sandra Balbuena at Monday's LAPD press conference to announce two suspect have been arrested and charged with the murder of her father in what has become known as the "craigslist cell phone killing".
At the 77th Street press conference Sandra, the heartbroken 19-year-old daughter of Rene Balbuena who was killed Oct. 19 on Gramercy Place near 92nd Street, spoke not only of her father, but of those detectives that broke the case.
"My dad was my best friend," said Sandra, her voice cracking as she stood next to Det. Chris Barling, supervisor of 77th Street Division's homicide detectives. "My dad was everything to me. Nothing ever is going to bring him back."
Then addressing Barling and the other detectives, she continued. "I don't have the words to thank you for everything you have done for me and my family. My family is really grateful. I know you didn't sleep, didn't eat, didn't stop. I want to thank everyone else, too, for their support for my family. The community The schools."
Even watching on a television miles away from 77th and Broadway, I could feel the emotions - pride, sorrow, determination, gratitude - coursing through that press conference.
Rene Balbuena, 41, of South Gate, was with his 15-year-old son when they were attacked by two teenage gang members who had lured the victims there with the craigislist ad to rob them. During the botched robbery-turned homicide, Sandra's brother was grazed by a bullet. He was treated and released from a local hospital.
"I am just grateful I still have my brother," Sandra said. "I just really want to thank everyone."
As for Det. Barling, he singled out lead investigator Dean Binluan and his partners for praise, as well as Criminal Gang Homicide Division, LAPD's Southwest Division's gang and robbery tables, Metropolitan's K-9 unit, Robbery Homicide's Special Surveillance Squad and the joint FBI/LAPD Task Force. "This investigation would not have come to such a quick conclusion without the help of those entities." Barling said.
Markell Thomas, 18, and Ryan Roth, 17, of Inglewood have been charged in the killing.
"This is about the family and their loss," said Det. Sal LaBarbera. "And about us trying to prevent stuff like this. That is what drives us."