(Since the Studio City and North Hollywood Patches launched, one of the crimes that shook the community is that of the stabbing death of Cheree Osmanhodzic. Take a look back at what she was doing that last day of her life, and see some of the updates in the stories below.)
The sun rose at 5:59 on July 24, 2010 in Los Angeles. The temperature was 61 degrees and the traffic was light on Riverside Drive near where the freeways intersect in Valley Village. It was going to be a bright sunny, Saturday.
That July 24, Comic-Con was going on in San Diego, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a bombing in Afghanistan and 18 people died in Germany during a “Love Parade.” July 24 is the day that the magical lost city of Machu Picchu was discovered in Peru.
For 34-year-old Cheree Osmanhodzic, it was going to be a busy day. She had a wedding to plan, exactly two months away on Sept. 24. Family members were going to be in and out of their apartment all day. Her mom, Gail Cameron, drove a few hours to help her pick out a wedding dress, and she had lots of shoes to try on.
All around the world on July 24, there were 80,000 people videotaping their “Life in a Day” to post on YouTube for a film project by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott.
For Cheree, it would be the last day of her life.
She and her fiancé Adam Culvey lived in a quaint apartment in the 11500 block of Riverside Drive. It wasn’t like the newer multi-story apartment complexes with secured underground parking and air conditioned lobbies down the block. It wasn’t a place with bars on the windows. Today was a day the doors would be opened all day.
This section of suburbia, just north of Studio City, not far from North Hollywood High, is one of the safest places in all of Los Angeles. Yet, only three months before, t and killed only a few blocks away at the 4:40 in the afternoon in what was thought to be killing.
Cheree thought nothing about keeping their doors opened. The disc jockey they planned for their wedding came over to chat. Many others would be coming over.
Just the day before, she left her job at Armani. Her friend, Myesha Chillis, left the job Wednesday and Cheree threw Myesha’s going away lunch. “I was leaving to work on parties and weddings, and I was going to do the wedding for her as my gift,” Chillis told Patch. “She was so beautiful and peaceful.”
During one of the many court hearings that would follow, Chillis waited for hours at the ninth floor of the Van Nuys Courthouse for the family to arrive and saw a feather float through the lobby. She was startled by it.
“That is so funny, Cheree loved feathers, she absolutely loved feathers,” Chillis said. “It’s like she was here.”
Cheree created their wedding website. She and her fiancé had a stunning set of photos taken in Franklin Canyon Park in the Studio City hills. The couple looked like magazine models (see photos in the gallery above). She was ethereal, fashionable, always smiling—a petite fashion fairy. He is a tall low-key handsome drummer with long-flowing blonde hair.
Friends and family have kept their wedding site up, as a sort of tribute. Ironically, when it was programmed, it counted down the couple’s time they were married: “Newlyweds for 304 days!”
Cheree and Adam still have a wedding registry to . Someone already bought the couple a seven-piece sangria set, a Black & Decker toaster and a Kitchensmart Oven Mitt, among other gifts. Those gifts were never delivered.
The couple met through Cheree’s friend Tresha, who was moving to New York. They had a girl’s night out at The Bowery in Hollywood, and Adam came by. Cheree blogged, “The minute I saw him I knew that moment I was in loveland... a week later he finally called and it was true love from there...”
Adam is from Michigan and loves cats. He worked with the super cool low-key dreadlocked American Idol finalist Jason Castro and Cheree said Adam “is an amazing drummer and groovy tambourine player.” (See him in a comical video above.)
Cheree herself described how they got engaged in Ojai:
“We decided to take a hike..what a beautiful hike it turned out to be. As we got to the top where it overlooked Ojai valley we were sitting at a picnic table …He gave me a cute little box that said ‘For Now’ which he painted, distressed and stenciled on...so I opened it and there was dark chocolate bars in it, which he knows I looovvveee. So he then handed me a second box, much larger which read ‘For Later’ which had some sexy lingere in it...yes for later!!! And then it happened, he handed me a third box much smaller in size that read ‘For Ever’ where he then got down on his knee and asked me to marry him.”
Soon after in March, the couple moved to the Riverside apartment about half a mile from North Hollywood Park known for transients who live along the freeway. It was where was staying after he was paroled five months before after a violent attack and drugs at the park.
Cheree’s mom kissed and hugged her daughter good-bye. “She told me she wanted to have a baby by the next year,” Gail Cameron said. “She told me ‘I’ll see you Sunday, I love you’ and how could I possibly know it would be the last time I’d ever see her?”
It was about half an hour before sunset at 7 p.m. and Adam made a run to the grocery store. He wouldn’t be gone more than half an hour.
Cheree started cleaning the bathroom and heard someone walk into the back door of the apartment. Wearing a backward baseball cap, a T-shirt, jeans and listening to an Ipod, Loera took a beer out of the refrigerator and began drinking it.
Loera, aka Arturo Benitez, aka Taz, is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds with a prison-drawn tattoo of two Aztec women on each shoulder. She scared him, he scared her. He lunged at her. He also was high. His drug of choice was meth, and was previously convicted of transporting methamphetamine.
Police initially reported that Cheree was stabbed with a sword. It turned out to be a shank, a shiv, a sort of homemade sharp tool that are often found in prisons.
“He flipped out, he was totally high that’s why he stabbed her,” said Cheree’s grand-aunt Karen Sutton, who keeps up multiple websites for Cheree (www.chereeosmanhodzic.com) and some of the call-for-action websites listed below. “It was so brutal.”
He stabbed Cheree at least 20 times. Then, to cover the crime, he took out some matches from his pocket and lit the apartment on fire. Cheree’s big feathery comforter and drapes went up in flames quickly.
Adam arrived home, and tried to open the front door. He pushed hard to open it while Loera was inside, trying to keep it closed. He got the door opened, saw Loera and took off after him through the back door. Adam did not know at that point the bungalow was on fire; when he came back, he found their home ablaze.
The chase took them to graveled alley behind the apartments and Loera swung wildly, cutting Adam on the arm. The 911 dispatch operator urged Culvey to give up the pursuit and said help was on the way.
The next day, a person walking a dog found a knife that was dropped by Loera, and an IPod he was wearing, both of which were later determined to carry Loera's DNA.
A neighbor helped put the fire out in the apartment, and the fire department arrived soon after, but Cheree was dead. Coroners say she was dead on the bed long before the fire erupted.
It was months before the suspect was caught, even though he was identified, and at one point someone thought they spotted him in , and then . In court, Loera confessed and apologized, saying, “I would give my life … if I could bring her back. I can't do that." The Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jessica Perrin Silvers admonished Loera, saying, “She was meaningless to you, obviously, because this was a vicious killing.” He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The family worked closely with prosecutors about whether they should go for the death penalty in the case. Ultimately, Adam helped make the decision. Adam locked stares with Loera during a
Then, Adam told his father, Don Culvey, “Dad, all I feel is hurt and compassion for that man. As a father, how great is that— that now my son who has been through tragedy enough is not going to live his life in hate and vengeance?”
Recently, Adam and his mother Carolyn Culvey, and Cheree’s mother went with Sutton, Cheree’s grand-aunt to meet the family of 27-year-old who was killed in Culver City on May 3.
Erica’s mother, Kathy Doyle, said, “I was amazed how much detail Gail remembered every single moment she spent that last day with Cheree. That was beautiful.”
Doyle paused, “But both of us have to deal with knowing that the last horrible moments of our beautiful daughters’ lives was seeing the faces of their murderers.”
Cheree’s family dealt with a lot in the last two years. Cheree’s Nana who was in a motorized wheelchair, after attending one of the North Hollywood Police Department’s press conferences. The family dealt with the shocking moment of finding out tha, December 10, 1975, as their daughter (see the video of the moment in the videos above.)
“It was like there was something good and something evil born on the same day,” Sutton said.
Omar Armando Loera was transported to Kern State Prison Delano on July 6.
Sutton is working on creating that could help reform the parole system. She has a petition and other websites involved for the cause and seeking one million signatures. She also launched: StopKillers.org, ChangeCA.org and ChereesVoice.com. The last one, she said, “I found out that ‘parole’ means ‘voice’ in French and I still want Cheree’s voice to be heard.”
Cheree didn’t want to be known as “the Bride-to-Be Murder Victim” and so the family is trying to put a positive spin on a tragedy. They held a private Cheree’s Garden Party (see video above), and have worked closely with Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian and Los Angeles police to help change policies.
And, a family friend, Gary Grafton Bruington, was inspired to write a song (see video above), with lyrics that include:
“Sunlight stills the morning rain
Lightning calls to answer
Won't cry when we say good bye...
I hear the Angels calling
They need you most of all, Cheree...”
And Kathy Doyle, who said she is still in shock and grieving over her own daughter’s killing, said, “The thing that those of us who are left behind are dealing with is the last day, the last moments, of their lives. That’s something we dwell over and can never forget.”
For Cheree that last day is July 24.
According to Sutton, family and friends remember Cheree that day. Sutton said that "there was music and memories, along with sadness and sorrow, but the laughter, love and joy won out ... that's the way Cheree would have wanted it."