As Armando Cruz, the suspected killer of 13-year-old Patricia Alatorre, pleaded not guilty to all 12 felony charges against him in Kern County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, more than 100 community members gathered to demand justice for the teen.
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer filed charges against Cruz and will personally prosecute him. Cruz’s first-degree murder charge includes four special circumstances that include kidnapping and sexual assault, which can carry the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted.
“(The severity of the charges) is something we’ll discuss with the family,” Zimmer said during a news conference after the arraignment. “We’ll discuss with the family and come back and announce that decision in court at a later time.”
Judge Colette M. Humphrey denied bail for Cruz, 24, of Inglewood, as he faced her dressed in a tan anti-suicide smock.
Alatorre’s family members wanted to organize a gathering outside of the courthouse to support the family, according to attendee Travis West. Some in attendance declined to provide comment on the situation, saying they held “brutal” sentiments for Cruz.
A group of Alatorre’s former teachers from Fairview Elementary were in attendance outside the courthouse. All expressed their shock over the situation and spoke about what a friendly person Alatorre was to others.
“I’ve known her for six years,” said teacher Elizabeth Curutchague. “She was known by all of the teachers. She would say ‘Hi’ to everybody, even if she didn’t know who you were.”
Teacher Rainn Edwards said she knew the circumstances were suspicious when she heard of Alatorre’s disappearance. The fact that Alatorre left her inhaler behind at home was an indicator of foul play, she said.
“She was in the nurse’s office doing her breathing treatments enough that I remember it,” Edwards said. “We knew she was not a runaway. She would not have left her inhaler. She was lured out.”
Police have said Alatorre was last seen at about 11:30 p.m. July 1. Police have not said whether her body has been recovered or the manner in which she died.
Attendees brought handmade signs reading “Make him pay” and “Justice for Patricia.” One sign read “Patricia Alatorre, Bakersfield’s daughter.”
Angel Lee, founder of Bakersfield Black Magazine, spoke at the gathering about her experience of being kidnapped as a teenager and her thoughts on its prevalence in Kern County.
“My perspective is that it’s the grace of God my kidnapper brought me back,” Lee said. “Kern County is not a sweet spot that pedophiles can come into our community and take advantage of our children.”
“That’s what it’s become.”
Lee preached monitoring children’s activities online as well as teaching children self defense. She also called for people to raise awareness for all missing children, especially the ones not in the media spotlight.
Cruz will have a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. July 30, according to the Superior Court’s website.
“It’s heartening that we see a crowd like this support the victims,” Zimmer said. “I appreciate the fact that you (those at the gathering) care that a child was killed and that we will do our best to bring justice to the family of the victim.”