Slain Woman Was Shot, Autopsy Shows

Aftermath: Megan Barroso died from wound to abdomen, report concludes. Her mother and others find some comfort in closure.

By Timothy Hughes
Times Staff Writer

August 6 2001

Megan Barroso, the 20-year-old Moorpark College student whose body was found over the weekend in a canyon southeast of Simi Valley, died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, authorities said Sunday.

An autopsy positively identified Barroso's badly decomposed body through dental records, said Mitch Breese, an investigator with the Ventura County medical examiner's office. The body was found by a search team early Saturday in a ravine off Black Canyon Road.

Breese said jewelry and other clothing also helped identify the body, which had been buried for weeks under piles of dried leaves and branches. Barroso was last seen leaving a friend's house in Thousand Oaks about 2:30 a.m. July 5. Her bullet-riddled Pontiac Sunfire was found under a freeway overpass about a mile from her Moorpark home.

Sheriff's officials on Sunday declined to comment on the ongoing investigation but said they would release new information today.

Suzan Barroso, the victim's mother who was among hundreds of volunteers who participated in Saturday's search, said she is still struggling to cope with the loss of her daughter. She said an Irish friendship ring she had given Megan when she was 17 was still on the girl's left middle finger when her body was found.

"I am taking it one step at a time and getting her clothing and her personal possessions and making arrangements for her memorial service," she said Sunday. "It's such a loss. So many years that we have had together. . . . You can't forget that overnight. I don't know how long it will take to get over this."

Vincent Henry Sanchez, 30, of Simi Valley is considered the chief suspect in the Barroso investigation. The unemployed handyman was arrested July 29 in connection with the sexual assault of at least 11 Simi Valley women over the past five years.

Sanchez is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to enter a plea on 57 counts of suspected sexual assault, kidnapping and burglary. He is being held in Ventura County Jail without bail

Shortly after his arrest, Sanchez was identified as a suspect in Barroso's disappearance after police seized an AK47 assault rifle from his Simi Valley home. The rifle was missing a part similar to one found near Barroso's battered car, authorities said.

Authorities are still trying to determine whether the gun and the recovered part match. They are also conducting ballistics tests to see whether the weapon was used to shoot up Barroso's car.

Lab tests are underway on several items of women's clothing taken from Sanchez's Woodrow Avenue home to determine whether any belong to the victim.

Sanchez has not been charged in the Barroso case. Police would not reveal whether Barroso, whose body was found dressed only in a green top, had been sexually assaulted.

Meanwhile, some of the more than 300 law enforcement officials and volunteers who participated in the search for Barroso over the last several weeks said Sunday they were still shaken by the experience.

"It hits home when you have kids," said Robert Rutter, 33, of Simi Valley, who organized several search parties.

After Barroso's body was found, Rutter set up a temporary command post at the edge of Black Canyon Road. Using ropes and a metal gurney, he helped retrieve the body from a ravine 50 feet below.

Although volunteers were saddened and disappointed by the discovery, Rutter said they were comforted by the fact that Barroso's family had some answers.

"We brought Megan back to her family," he said. "There were so many unknowns; at least we have now given them their daughter back. They know she has passed away.

"Ken Jeters, 44, a Simi Valley construction superintendent, was with the three-man team that found the body. The moment they made the discovery will never leave him, he said.

"I'm sure I'll think about it the rest of my life," said Jeters, a two-year member of the county's volunteer search-and-rescue team.

The first thing he did when he got home Saturday night was hug his wife and his 12-year-old daughter, he said.

Suzan Barroso, who participated in many of the search efforts in recent weeks, expressed deep appreciation for the outpouring of support from the community.

"I was awed by the turnout," she said. "I'm wondering if it's not raising the consciousness about how easy it is to have something like this happen. There are some good-hearted people, and I know that. . . . It was the evil that took down Megan, but it was the good that brought her back."