UPDATE, DEC. 5, 12:05 P.M.: Edwin Echeverria faces 14 felony counts and a sentence of 275 years to life in state prison for molesting at least five boys, the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) just announced. The Santa Ana 22-year-old has been charged with 11 felony counts of lewd act upon a child under 14 and three felony counts of lewd acts upon a child with sentencing enhancements of committing the crime against more than one victim. Echeverria is still being held on $1 million bail pending an arraignment hearing some time today at the Central Jail.
The original OCDA statement to the media alleged Echeverria "befriended" more than 10 boys at his apartment, but Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky, the prosecutor assigned to the case, later clarified to City News Service that the charges cover the defendant's relationships with five boys.
Santa Ana Police Family Crimes detectives still believe there were eight victims and they are trying to interview three more.
Besides those detectives (at 714.245.8542), the OCDA directs anyone with additional information or who believes they have been a victim to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Kelly Core at 714.347.8794.
ORIGINAL POST, DEC. 5, 7:02 A.M.: A 22-year-old Santa Ana man is accused of being a serial child molester, with the Santa Ana Police Department having placed him under arrest Wednesday afternoon in connection with eight possible boy victims as young as 10.
Meanwhile, detectives are investigating three more possible victims of Edwin Echeverria, whose first scheduled court hearing is today. Prosecutors say the charges ultimately filed against him could reflect more than the original eight. How Echeverria got to these boys was through selling them chips, soda and other items from his apartment, says Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, the Santa Ana Police spokesman.
"The number of victims involved is this case is extraordinary," says Bertagna in a statement. "Detectives are not aware of any other Santa Ana cases involving a single suspect targeting such a large number of victims within memory."
The case against Echeverria began after the parent of one child checked some of his social media messages and believed the boy was in an inappropriate relationship with an unknown person, Bertagna explained. After police were contacted, the boy was interviewed, Echeverria was identified as the suspect and further investigation uncovered seven more victims ranging in age from 10 to 14, the spokesman added.
Detectives believe the first boy was molested in August 2012 and the most recent known incident happened two weeks ago, Bertagna said. After initially befriending the boys by selling them goodies from his Warwick Square apartment in the 700 block of South Lyon Street, Echeverria allegedly established a rapport and trust before convincing each victim to engage in sexual acts with him, Bertagna said.
Echeverria was arrested just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday as he was leaving his job in the 3500 block of South Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa. The ongoing investigation uncovered the three additional possible victims who detectives are currently trying to locate and interview, Bertagna said.
That's actually one of the problems with cases like these: Sexual abuse victims are commonly reluctant to disclose abuse for fear of retaliation or due to personal embarrassment. Echeverria's apartment is a block away from two elementary schools AND a park. Because he had access to children, police are asking parents of those who may have had contact with him to discuss those interactions with the children.
If there is any sign of inappropriate contact with Echeverria, call Santa Ana Police Department Family Crimes detectives at 714.245.8542 or Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855.847.6227 (855-TIP-OCCS). The latter nonprofit accepts anonymous tips, even through their website at occrimestoppers.org.
Echeverria was being held in jail on $1 million bail heading into today's court appearance.