Campground standoff turns deadly
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A 9-year-old girl was found dead Friday when officers rushed a tent at a South Shore campground, ending a lengthy standoff with two adults wanted for kidnapping.
James Csucsai, 35, and 32-year-old Lisa Ann Platz, the girl’s mother, were found in the tent with their wrists slashed about 10:30 a.m. Police moved in after negotiators heard Csucsai say he was losing consciousness; his neck also was cut.
Both adults were taken to Barton Memorial Hospital, where Platz was treated and released into police custody. Csucsai underwent surgery but he was released Friday night.
Both were booked into El Dorado County jail and held without bail Sunday on suspicion of murder. They also face kidnapping charges on a Washington state warrant and federal charges for flight to avoid prosecution.
The dead girl, Rebecca Aramburo, had two neck lacerations, according to investigators. An autopsy is scheduled Tuesday in Auburn, Calif., to determine the time and exact cause of her death.
Rebecca was kidnapped at gunpoint Aug. 13 from the Lakewood, Wash., home of her stepmother’s parents, according to Pierce County investigators. Platz earlier failed to appear at a Pierce County court hearing on an earlier charge of custodial interference.
Local police received notice of an FBI fugitive watch Thursday night from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. The suspects were believed to be en route to South Lake Tahoe, and the advisory included a description of the 1995 Nissan Maxima with Ohio license plates found next to the tent.
Police made contact about 1 a.m., but Csucsai refused to leave the tent, told officers he had a gun and warned them to stay away. At one point, South Lake Tahoe police spokesman Chuck Owens said, the man shouted, “We will not be taken alive.”
No gun was found in the tent, but two knives were recovered. Two handguns and a rifle were found inside the Nissan, Owens said.
More than 50 law enforcement personnel eventually responded, including special tactical teams. Nearby campers were quietly roused from their sleep and evacuated. U.S. Highway 50 was closed through the morning.
Campers were taken to the Inn by the Lake and later settled at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Center, where they were provided doughnuts and coffee.
Louise Wright of Ventura, Calif., was sleeping when she was startled by shouting from a nearby campsite.
“I was awakened about 2:30 a.m. with yelling and screaming,” she said Friday morning. “I couldn’t see where it was coming from but I opened my window and heard a guy say, ‘What did this little girl ever do to you that you’d want to hurt her?’ I don’t know who said it. About 3:30 a.m. a (police officer) knocked on our door and said to quietly get dressed, not to start any engines and walk off the campground as quickly as we could. It is scary.”
After the standoff ended, stunned campers looked on as detectives and evidence technicians examined the crime scene. Keli Malinoski, 35, of Granite Bay, Calif., said she was waiting outside the restroom Thursday afternoon when Platz and the girl came out.
“The little girl kept staring at me,” Malinoski said, shaking her head in dismay. “I knew something was wrong, I knew it, but what are you going to say? ‘A little girl stared at me?'”
As Platz and Rebecca walked away, the mother wrapped her arms around the child and kissed her on the head, Malinoski said.
Hayley Viens, a 25-year-old Vacaville resident, arrived at the campground with her family around 9 p.m. Thursday. She awoke to the sounds of shotguns being cocked, barking dogs and officers yelling at the people in the tent next to their campsite.
“The man kept telling the police officers to back off and the woman was saying the same thing,” Viens said. “She kept saying, ‘Leave us alone.'”
Viens’ stepfather, Ken Wright, said the tent was illuminated by headlights and he could see the figures of two people seated inside. Nobody in Wright’s group ever saw or heard Rebecca.
Friday afternoon, Viens’ 18-month-old daughter napped inside their RV, exhausted after being up all night. Viens said the family did not plan to cut short their trip.
“I don’t have any concerns for our safety at all,” she said. “It didn’t even cross my mind.”
Juergen Kohl, 58, was vacationing with his family from Dusseldorf, Germany. They had planned to leave Friday for Sacramento, but were so exhausted by the ordeal they decided to stay another night.
“Things like this happen every day, in every place,” Kohl said. “If you’re close by, then you’re involved, then it hurts you.”
Friday evening, someone placed a bunch of flowers in a glass jar atop a picnic table near where Rebecca died. The makeshift memorial at the campsite continued to grow Saturday with dried flowers and stuffed animals.
In Lakewood, Wash., Jose Aramburo said he couldn’t understand why anyone would kill his daughter, a brown-eyed girl who loved animals and dressing up as a movie star.
“I loved her so much,” he said at his Lakewood home, filled with friends and family members who had come after hearing of Rebecca’s death.
Earlier this year, Rebecca’s spring break visit with her mother turned into a three-month stint when Platz didn’t return the girl to Aramburo, who had full custody. Law enforcement officials in San Diego found Platz in June and arrested her.
Rebecca went back home to Aramburo and his wife. Platz was extradited to Washington and posted bail, but weeks later, police said, again took Rebecca.
“She’s with her mother and she won’t hurt her,” the child’s uncle, Joe Aramburo, said Friday. “We hung on to that little feeling.”
– The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., contributed to this report.
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