Stand-off Gunman Was Former Child Actor With Violent Past
December 24, 2008
EL MONTE-- Authorities say a man who was shot and killed by police after a standoff in which he took his 7-year-old son hostage Tuesday was a suspect wanted for the 2004 murder of his girlfriend in Hawthorne.
The suspect was identified by police as 38-year-old Manuel Benitez of Hawthorne, was wanted by the FBI since 2004 for allegedly killing his girlfriend Stephanie Spears, the mother of the 7-year-old.
Benitez had been a fugitive for four years until he showed up Tuesday during the standoff at Tai Pan restaurant in El Monte just after 3:20 p.m.
Benitez was apparently featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" earlier this year.
The show said Benitez was a child actor who went by the name Mark Everett, one of several aliases known to police.
He appeared in commercials and in films including "Stand and Deliver" and "Pee Wee's Big Adventure."
Benitez allegedly bludgeoned Spears to death with a dumbbell inside their home during a fit of rage after a bad break-up.
He was supposedly trying to take their son after the break-up while Spears slept, but became enraged when Spears woke up and confronted him.
Benitez then allegedly fled with his son and mother, Elizabeth Velasco, to Cuba or Mexico. He was charged with murder and a California warrant was issued for his arrest in May 2005, according to the FBI Web site.
A federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was issued in March 2006. The FBI was offering $20,000 for information leading to Benitez's arrest.
Tuesday's incident, which involved the same boy, began around 3:20 p.m. when police responded to a report of a suspicious man with a child near the intersection of Ramona Blvd. and Santa Anita Ave. Officers arriving at the scene reportedly found Benitez armed with a handgun.
Officers told the man to let go of the boy, said El Monte Police Det. Ralph Batres. The man resisted and fled, pulling the boy with him.
With the boy in a headlock, and a gun held to the child's head, the man tried to enter the El Sombrero Restaurant, according to a restaurant employee
After several unsuccessful attempts to get into that restaurant, Benitez took his son into the Tai Pan Chinese Food restaurant, where he locked himself and the child inside a bathroom.
Authorities negotiated with Benitez for two hours, when a flash-bang grenade detonated at 5:30 p.m. followed by gunshots. There is no word on who fired the shots.
Two handguns in Benitez's possession were recovered following the shooting, according to police.
Officers pulled the boy out of the restaurant and he was rushed to County USC Medical with a gunshot wound to the thigh. He was reported in stable condition Wednesday.