Police arrested Daniel Gross, 19, and Melissa Leonardo, 25, of Modesto, California, on suspicion of murder in the brutal slaying of 19-year-old Lizette Cuesta.
Authorities said Cuesta fought for her life early Monday morning and used her last words to help identify her accused killers. While a motive is not yet known, police described the suspects and victim as friends.
Gross and Leonardo, who were engaged, worked at a fast-food chain together and one customer described the pair to Heavy as “hollow souls” whom were always “clingy.” Heavy also spoke with a former colleague of Leonardo, who said she “seemed normal” but also “moody at times.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. They Are Suspected of Stabbing the Teen Multiple Times & Leaving Her to Die Alone
“On Monday, February 12, 2018, about 2:00 am, CHP-Dublin Officers responded to a 911 report of an injured woman on the ground near mile marker 8.49 on Tesla Road in rural Livermore,” a press release stated.
According to KRON 4, authorities said it appeared that Cuesta was brutally stabbed before being dumped from a vehicle and left for dead.
Richard Loadholt and three colleagues were carpooling to an early morning shift at UPS when they came across Cuesta, Fox 40 reported. The man told the station that Cuesta was in such a horrifying state that he wasn’t able to recognize the color of her hair.
“She laid down for almost three minutes at one period, and we told her to get up,” Loadholt told the news outlet. “She knew she had to get up and I commend that.”
The victim reportedly crawled about 100 yards before being discovered by the workers. Authorities were able to determine the approximate distance after following a trail of blood.
Cuesta’s uncle expressed gratitude towards those who stopped to help his niece.
“We want to thank the Good Samaritans that helped her,” Roberto Cuesta told CBS San Francisco. “Not a lot of people would do that. We just want to reach out and, hopefully, one day we can talk.”
2. Police: Cuesta Used Her Last Dying Words to Help Identify Gross & Leonardo
According to the press release, officers from the California Highway Patrol along with Alameda County Fire Paramedics responded to the scene of the crime, where they found Cuesta suffering from “life threatening stabwounds and other injuries.”
“A decision was made to life flight the victim to Eden Hospital Trauma in Castro Valley where she was pronounced dead about 4:30 am,” the release stated. “Prior to her death, she was able to provide us with pertinent information about her attackers.”
“This victim really tried to survive, and she fought and she fought,” Sgt. Ray Kelly with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told The San Francisco Chronicle. “The last thing, we believe, that she was able to do was to point us in the direction of the people that killed her. And that’s pretty remarkable.”
“I’ve been around a long time, and I can only think of two to three times that I’m aware of in our agency that we’ve been able to get a dying declaration like that,” Kelly continued. “A dying declaration is a very compelling piece of evidence that’s recognized in the court to be very credible and reliable information.”
Cuesta’s heartbroken father told CBS San Francisco that he was proud of his daughter’s final moments on earth.
“I’m proud of her. She didn’t give up. She won. She showed them,” Ray Cuesta told the station. “I know she passed away, but when they did this to her, they figured they got away with it. She didn’t let them get away with it. She brought peace to herself and peace to me and my family. I love her.”
3. Authorities Said the Suspects Were Known Friends With the Victim
While a motive has not been identified in the alleged murder, authorities said Gross and Leonardo had been friends with the victim.
Kelly told reporters at a February 13 news conference that detectives “have a lot to fill in as far as motive,” adding that Cuesta willingly entered the suspect’s vehicle, according to The Modesto Bee.
Authorities are investigating what occurred after the victim got into the car. “We have a very dynamic crime scene on Tesla Road…I’m going to leave it at that,” Kelly told The Bee when asked about where the stabbing may have taken place.
4. The Suspects Worked Together & Gross ‘Talked About Killing People,’ While Leonardo Was Described as ‘Moody’
Gross and Leonardo worked together at Carl’s Jr. in Tracy, California, according to sources. The victim grew up in San Jose but resided in Tracy at the time of her death.
An employee at the fast-food establishment confirmed with Heavy that the suspects had worked for the company, but said that due to the ongoing investigation they were unable to provide further information.
A regular customer of the restaurant told Heavy she believed the alleged killer-couple had worked at Carl’s Jr. located on Tracy Boulevard for about a year. Jane Garcia described the two as “hollow souls” who were “constantly all over each other” while working. She further stated that Leonardo often displayed “an attitude.”
A former colleague of Leonardo, Danielle Fenisey, told Heavy that she worked alongside the woman in 2016 at another Carl’s Jr. located in Manteca, California.
Fenisey said Leonardo was a mother of three who wasn’t dating Gross when the two worked together, adding that the woman “was with a different guy.” It is unclear if Gross and Leonardo had any biological children together.
When asked about her reaction to the news of Leonardo’s arrest, Fenisey stated:
Another former coworker of mine actually sent the mugshot to me and I saw the guy’s picture first and didn’t recognize him. But then I looked to the next photo and saw Melissa and recognized her right away. And I was completely shocked. You know, you hear about these horrific tragedies on the news and I always think to myself, who can do such a thing? But it was crazy because I see mugshots all of the time, but to see someone I actually knew was so crazy.
She seemed normal to me, but she had her days when she would come into work kind of moody, but everybody has their days.
However, friends of both suspects saw different sides of the couple. “She had emotional issues and was extremely jealous. He had anger issues & talked about killing people who talked too much,” friends of the couple told Fox 40:
“Daniel has always talked about if someone pisses him off bad enough he will kill them,” Montana Howland told the station. “But Melissa is the only one with a car and she goes everywhere Daniel goes, so that’s probably the reason she got (dragged) into it.”
5. A GoFundMe Page Has Been Set Up to Help Cuesta’s Family
A GoFundMe account has been set up by Zelda Lopez to help Cuesta’s family during this tragic time.
“We are raising money to help the family of Lizette in this very tragic and difficult time,” the website reads. “Any and all donations will be greatly appreciated.”
At the time of publishing the page had raised nearly $6,000 of a $30,000 goal. You may donate by clicking here.
Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to call the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office at 510 667-7721. Callers may remain anonymous.
*This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
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