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The Two Women Found Dead In Debs Park Knew Each Other

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A case worker who knew the two teenagers who were found murdered in Debs Park last week said that the teens were friends and that one of them was intended to become a firefighter.

Tina Padilla works as a youth case manager at nonprofit Aztec Rising, located not far from Debs Park. She told LA Weekly that Gabriela Calzada, 19, and Briana Gallegos, 17, were friends.

It's not clear yet what happened to the two women. Their bodies were found off a hiking trail in the park last week by a woman who was walking her dog. Reports have indicated that a blunt force trauma as well as a gun may have been contributing factors to the teens' death, but authorities have been tight-lipped.

Padilla said that though Calzada herself was never a part of a gang, she had gotten into some trouble as a teen. Padilla met Calzada when she came of her own accord to Aztec Rising, where Padilla became her case worker.

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Padilla said that Calzada's family, originally from Mexico, could only afford to live in a neighborhood where Calzada was often exposed to the wrong crowd. "She didn't have much choice in life," Padilla said. "She was a victim of where she lived."

Calzada, however, participated in and completed the nonprofit's Gang Reduction Youth Development program, a city-sponsored initiative to keep youth out of gangs. Padilla said Calzada volunteered extensively, helping to clean up trash and hand out food to those in need. Padilla ended up testifying in court last year to get an ankle monitor Calzada had been required to wear removed, and that the teen intended to become a firefighter. Aztec Rising has a program that helps youth become Certified Wildland Firefighters. She would have begun training in January, but in the interim had been prepping by working out and carrying around a 75-pound backpack.

Padilla also knew Gallegos, saying she was a "sweet girl" and a cheerleader at school. While Padilla said she had heard rumors that Gallegos may have been pregnant, she could not confirm them.

A vigil was held for the two women last night in Montecito Heights, according to ABC 7.

LASD Capt. Martin Baez said they're currently working round the clock reviewing multiple possibilities, such as looking for other incidents in the park, possible gang connections and at acquaintances of the women.

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"We're looking at anything that's coming our way as far as leads," he said. This include a possible connection to a man who allegedly assaulted and exposed himself to three women in Debs Park last year. That suspect was never caught.

Gallegos' brother said that he believes it must have been a random act of violence, as he feels like none of her friends would have done anything to hurt her, KTLA reports.

A 62-year-old man was found dead yesterday in the park, but authorities say this man died from natural causes and that his death was not related, the Eastsider reports.

Some have expressed concerns that the teens' death may be related to the murder of two other young women who were found dead in 2011. Michelle Lozana, 17, was found strangled on April 26, 2011 near the 5 Freeway in Boyle Heights. Brea'Anna Guzman, 22, was found near the Riverside Drive onramp at the Glendale Freeway on January 26, 2012. Detectives said last year that those two cases were related, though have not connected them to the most recent incidents. Authorities have said that as of right now, there is no evidence to suggest an active serial killer, ABC 7 reports.