Two suspects charged in murder of Iraq war veteran nine years later

From left, Anthony Silvas, 36, and Juan Vallejo, 40, are accused of killing Jesse Aguilar of Rowland Heights. Aguilar's body was found in a burning car in South Gate on Oct. 26, 2006. Detectives recently announced the arrest of the two men. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau)

Nine years after his body was found inside a burning car – the cold case of an Iraq War veteran has been reopened.

Two men have been charged in the slaying of 24-year-old U.S. Army veteran Jesse Aguilar. Police say he was found shot to death  inside the trunk of his burning car in October of 2006.

Jesse Aguilar spends time with one of his two daughters shortly after returning home from the invasion Iraq. (Courtesy)
Jesse Aguilar spends time with one of his two daughters shortly after returning home from the invasion Iraq. (Courtesy)

Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office say murder charges  have been filed against Anthony Silvas and Juan Vallejo. They say Silvas was considered a ‘person of interest’ in the case shortly after the murder, while Vallejo was identified as a suspect in “recent months.”

Upon hearing the news about the investigation, Aguilar’s mother said she couldn’t thank the lead detective enough for not giving up: “God sent Ray (Lugo) for this case because he never quits.”

“It’s been a relief that there’s going to be accountability… I want to look into the killers’ eyes. I want to see them,” she said.

Vallejo was arrested Wednesday at his home in Hawaiian Gardens, police said. Silva was already in custody in Orange County for an unrelated drug offense.

While detectives said they cannot discuss details of the killing, due to the ongoing investigation, they did say that it was motivated by a “dispute over money.” Aguilar and Silvas were apparently friends .. Vallejo was described as an acquaintance of the victim.

Aguilar joined the Army in March 2001, and took part in the invasion of Iraq two years later. “He went to war and came back in one piece, and I was so thankful,” his mother said.

Jesse Aguilar 2
Jesse Aguilar poses with an Iraqi boy while serving overseas with the U.S. Army following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (Courtesy)

When Aguilar returned home from war, he started working at the Automobile Club of Southern California in Costa Mesa, according to the Whittier Daily News.  On Oct. 25, 2006, he never came home from work.

The next day his ‘bound body’ was found inside his burning car in the Los Angeles Riverbed near Paramount Boulevard in South Gate.

Both suspects are scheduled to appear in court this week for their arraignments.

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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