Julie Kibuishi loved music, fashion and her family, but nothing gave the 23-year-old Orange County High School of the Arts graduate more pleasure than hanging out with friends, her parents and one brother related in a tearful and impromptu meeting with local media this morning.
Indeed, Julie, who was born Juri, believed she was coming over to comfort her friend Samuel Herr when she unwittingly walked into a death trap.
Herr, a 26-year-old military veteran and Orange Coast College student, was murdered the afternoon of May 21 in the theater at the Los Alamitos Joint Training Facility.
However, police first discovered the body of Kibuishi in Herr's bedroom in the Camden Martinique apartment complex in Costa Mesa on the night of May 22. They initially believed Herr killed the young woman, his friend and tutor who also attended OCC, and fled.
After Herr's torso was found in the theater and head and parts of his left arm, both decomposed and scavenged by animals, were located at El Dorado Park Nature Center in Long Beach on May 27, Daniel Patrick Wozniak was arrested for both murders.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced this morning that Wozniak, also a 26-year-old resident of the Camden Martinique and a local theater actor appearing in a production on the Los Alamitos facility's stage, will face the death penalty for the crimes.
After the DA's press conference, reporters and a TV news pool cameraman were led to a conference room to meet with Masa and Junko Kibuishi and their son Taka, who is seven years older than his deceased sister. There are also two other siblings.
Herr's family was not in attendance as they were attending his memorial service.
Taka Kibuishi, who has been the most comfortable speaking with the media about the case, said he supports the decision of the DA's office to seek the death penalty.
"It is horrible to think anyone in this world can derive this kind of plan and take innocent victims," said the brother, who was the last family member to see Julie alive--on the same night she was murdered.
She had come over to hang out with him and his fiancee. During dinner at a restaurant near his Long Beach home, Julie was given a tiara to wear at the couple's upcoming wedding. She wore it all during the drive back to Taka's place.
"I had a good evening with her, a lot of hours. She was receiving texts and telling us about Sam. She said Sam was like a big brother and you'd like him."
The texts indicated Sam was having some kind of "family problems" and that he "just needed a girl's shoulder to cry on," added Taka, who said he now wishes he had plied his little sister with enough alcohol that she would not have been able to drive.
That's because, according to authorities, the texts were not coming from Herr, but Wozniak.
The Kibuishis are the kind of family that lets one another know what they are up to, Taka and his mother agreed. Julie texted her brother to say she arrived at Herr's apartment. Her last text message indicated, "Uh-oh. Doesn't look good. Crying" and the sad face emoticon, said her brother.
Reading between the lines of what has been reported about the case, that is probably how the gunman was able to get Kibuishi into Herr's bedroom, by saying Herr was inside, distraught.
Taka said her sister did know Wozniak. "I wouldn't confirm they were close," he said, explaining that many Camden Martinique residents hung out together casually.
"She was living at home," Julie's mother Junko said of their Irvine residence. "We were very close. Of course, she's 23. Being parents, we always communicated. It was not that hard letting go; she was always good at letting me know what was going on."
Julie had wanted to see her brother's place, and Junko remembered, "I told her she better leave early because traffic is hard in Long Beach . . ."
The mother's voice trailed off as she sank into tears.
They were her last words to her daughter.
The OCHSA grad loved music, and Taka recalled her "singing out loud" back at No Doubt during a concert they attended together. She couldn't wait to get her fashion design portfolio back from her OCC class so she could show it off to her big brother, who was hoping to help land her an internship at an Orange County action-sports company like Quiksilver.
Asked about their anger at her demise, Taka said the family is coping by remembering sweet little Julie and coming up with ways to memoralize her. That's the only way they can stay strong, he explained, as anger won't bring her back.
That said, the family does want justice and, at this particular moment, the death penalty for his sister's killer fits his definition of what justice would be, said Taka, who later clarified his answer.
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"At the end of the day, whatever happens, we just want Julie remembered as someone who's been very sweet," he said, "always there for people. Pure."
Silent throughout most of the meeting was Julie's father Masa, who explained, "I don't want to say too much. Still, I don't believe this has happened."
He and his wife still think of her being at her brother's house, on her way home.
"She did what she always did," Junko said, "for friends."