Police arrested Daniel Gross, 19, and Melissa Leonardo, 25, of Modesto, California on suspicion of murder in the brutal stabbing of 19-year-old Lizette Cuesta.
Authorities said 19-year-old Cuesta fought for her life early Monday morning and used her last words to help identify the alleged killers. While a motive is not yet known at this time, police described the suspects and victim as friends.
Gross and Leonardo worked at a fast-food chain together, and one customer described the pair to Heavy.com as “hollow souls” whom were always “clingy” towards each other while on the job. Heavy also spoke with a former colleague of Leonardo, who said she “seemed normal” but also “moody at times.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. They Are Suspected of Stabbing the Teen Multiple Times & Leaving Her to Die Alone
“On Monday, February 12, 2018, about 2:00 am, CHP-Dublin Officers responded to a 911 report of an injured woman on the ground near mile marker 8.49 on Tesla Road in rural Livermore,” a press release stated.
According to KRON 4, authorities said it appeared that Cuesta was brutally stabbed before being dumped from a vehicle and left for dead.
Richard Loadholt and three colleagues were carpooling to an early morning shift at UPS when they came across Cuesta, Fox 40 reported. The man told the station that Cuesta was in such horrifying shape that he wasn’t able to make out the color of her hair.
The victim reportedly crawled about 100 yards before being discovered by the workers. Authorities were able to determine the approximate distance after following a trail of blood.
“She laid down for almost three minutes at one period, and we told her to get up,” Loadholt told the news outlet. “She knew she had to get up and I commend that.”
2. Police: Cuesta Used Her Last Dying Words to Help Identify Gross & Leonardo
According to the press release, officers from the California Highway Patrol along with Alameda County Fire Paramedics responded to the scene of the crime, where they found Cuesta suffering from “life threatening stabwounds and other injuries.”
“A decision was made to life flight the victim to Eden Hospital Trauma in Castro Valley where she was pronounced dead about 4:30 am,” the release continued. “Prior to her death, she was able to provide us with pertinent information about her attackers.”
“This victim really tried to survive, and she fought and she fought,” Sgt. Ray Kelly with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told The San Francisco Chronicle. “The last thing, we believe, that she was able to do was to point us in the direction of the people that killed her. And that’s pretty remarkable.”
“I’ve been around a long time, and I can only think of two to three times that I’m aware of in our agency that we’ve been able to get a dying declaration like that,” Kelly continued. “A dying declaration is a very compelling piece of evidence that’s recognized in the court to be very credible and reliable information.”
3. Authorities Said the Suspects Were Known Friends With the Victim
While a motive in the slaying was unknown at the time of publishing, authorities said Gross and Leonardo had been friends with the victim.
Kelly told reporters at a February 13 news conference that detectives “have a lot to fill in as far as motive,” adding that Cuesta willingly entered the suspect’s vehicle, according to The Modesto Bee.
4. The Suspects Worked Together at Carl’s Jr Restaurant in Tracy, & Leonardo Was a Mother to 3 Children
Gross and Leonardo worked together at Carl’s Jr. in Tracy, California.
An employee at the fast-food establishment confirmed with Heavy that the suspects had worked for the company, but said that due to the ongoing investigation they were unable to provide further information.
A regular customer of the restaurant told Heavy she believed the suspects had worked at the Tracy Boulevard Carl’s Jr. for about a year. Jane Garcia described the two as “hollow souls” who were “constantly all over each other” while working. She further stated that Leonardo often displayed “an attitude.”
A former colleague of Leonardo, Danielle Fenisey, told Heavy that she worked alongside the suspect at another Carl’s Jr. location in Manteca, California in 2016.
Fenisey said the Leonardo was a mother of three who wasn’t dating Gross at the time, adding that she “was together with a different guy.”
When asked about her reaction to the news of Leonardo’s arrest, Fenisey stated:
Another old coworker of mine actually sent the mugshot to me and I saw the guy’s picture first and didn’t recognize him. But then I looked to the next photo and saw Melissa and recognized her right away. And I was completely shocked. You know, you hear about these horrific tragedies on the news and I always think to myself, who can do such a thing? But it was crazy because I see mugshots all of the time, but to see someone I actually knew, was so crazy.
She seemed normal to me, but she had her days when she would come into work kind of moody, but everybody has their days.
5. The Community Is Outraged & a GoFundMe Has Been Set Up to Help Cuesta’s Family