Crime & Courts

Charges describe 'execution' of 17-year-old in Government Hill

The family of Jesus Oropeza demanded justice for the 17-year-old during a hearing Thursday at the Anchorage Correctional Complex for one of two suspects accused of executing him.

What happened "needs to have a severe consequence," said Jesus Oropeza's aunt Lorena Hernandez during the brief arraignment.

Kenya Damien Jacob Berezkin remained silent as Hernandez spoke to the judge, her relatives nearly filling the first row of seats in the courtroom.

Berezkin and Sean Robert Samuel Simeonoff, both 18, have been charged with first- and second-degree murder and robbery in the death of Oropeza. They had identical bail amounts totaling $500,000 each set at court hearings on Wednesday and Thursday. A state prosecutor said the defendants executed the victim.

Oropeza, 17, was found shot in the back in Government Hill. He was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his wounds. Charges against the alleged killers say they called Oropeza to buy marijuana.

Oropeza's father Luis Oropeza-Jimenez told police his son had a small marijuana grow in their Hollywood Street home and that Oropeza sold what the plants yielded.

"There may have been marijuana involved, but that's not who (Oropeza) is," Hernandez said outside the Anchorage jail. "We know he was a good kid."

The aunt said her nephew worked two jobs, helped his father pay rent and lent a hand to relatives in their large family of four generations residing in Alaska.

She said the family did not know the two teenagers charged with killing Oropeza.

"Their faces mean nothing to us," Hernandez said. "They don't look like people he would associate with."

Criminal complaints against Simeonoff and Berezkin, written by Anchorage police detective James Trull, said that the shooting was reported just after midnight Saturday by Oropeza's father.

On the night of the shooting, Oropeza-Jimenez told police, his son said he was stepping outside "to meet with some people," which he found unusual given the hour. The father saw two males — one black and one white, both skinny and wearing dark clothing — meeting with his son about a block away.

"Luis did not hear the gun being fired at his son but did see his son lying on the ground," Trull wrote. "Luis yelled at the suspects 'What the f—' at which point the suspects fired the weapon at him three times."

After the shooting, the father checked Oropeza's clothing for his cellphone, but wasn't able to find it. Police called the phone, but it rang through to voicemail.

Trull wrote in the complaint that investigators sometimes use surveillance devices that replicate signals from cellular towers to track and locate cellphones. Although he didn't explicitly mention the use of such a device by police in the case, the police department confirmed in September that they had purchased the technology.

The complaint says investigators may have used such a device in the execution of a search warrant to track the missing phone. Phone records showed that a half hour before the murder, Oropeza's cellphone took multiple calls from a phone number tied to Berezkin.

A witness told police she drove the suspects and two other men she did not know to the area of Oropeza's home.

According to her account, she waited near the intersection of Birch and Vine streets for 15 minutes before Berezkin came running toward her car followed by Simeonoff. She was unaware of what happened and did not hear a gunshot, she told police.

But the next morning she heard Simeonoff "admit that he had fired the gun at the meeting … the night prior," the complaint says. She said "she couldn't live with this fact and also wanted the family to know what had happened."

The witness also contacted Berezkin and police listened in. Berezkin made no denials when they spoke and told her to delete her texts and deny she was there the night of the shooting, according to the complaint.

Video surveillance recorded the fatal shooting, and its description is included in the charging documents. In essence, two people approach Oropeza near his home, according to the documents. He lies on his stomach on the ground when one of them produces a handgun, according to the charges. The other assailant rifles through Oropeza's clothing and removes some items before walking behind Oropeza and shooting him in the back, the charging documents say.

[Shooting of teenager killed on Government Hill captured on surveillance video]

"The video plays in our mind every day," said Oropeza's aunt Christina Rhett as other family members chimed in to comment that the shooting appeared to be an execution.

Hernandez said the family wants to get the whole picture of what happened the night Oropeza died.

"To know those are the last two faces my nephew saw — why?" Hernandez said. "It's not over. We know there are more people who know something."

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Chris Klint contributed to this story. 

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.