EL MONTE, Calif. – A call to police to investigate a gaunt, seedy-looking man with a boy was the beginning of a deadly end to four years on the run for Manuel Benitez, a former child actor who authorities say used a dumbbell to beat his girlfriend to death in 2004.
Benitez was shot and killed by police Tuesday night about two hours after he holed up in the back of a Chinese restaurant where he'd taken his 7-year-old son hostage. He was armed with two handguns and had threatened to harm the boy, police said.
Benjamin Everett, whose mother was slain when he was 3, was shot in the thigh as a SWAT team burst into the locked bathroom, but his wound was not considered life-threatening. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which was investigating the incident, released no information on who wounded the boy.
He was listed in stable condition at County-USC Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Adelaida De La Cerda said.
Benitez, 38, was a child actor who had small roles under the name Mark Everett in such 1980s fare as "Galactica 1980" and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." He was credited as "heavy metal boy" in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver."
However, his career went nowhere and so did his life.
In 2000, he was arrested on drug charges and in 2003 he was arrested for hiding loaded guns in his son's stroller, leading to his conviction and a sentence of probation, according to the TV show "America's Most Wanted," which obtained videos of his questioning by authorities in those cases and repeatedly featured his case.
Benitez vanished with the boy after his girlfriend and Benjamin's mother, Stephanie Spears, was beaten to death with a dumbbell on June 21, 2004, in their home in Hawthorne, a Los Angeles suburb.
He was charged with murder and a state arrest warrant was issued in 2005. The next year a federal arrest warrant was issued after he was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
After Spears' killing, photographs of Benitez and the boy were placed on milk cartons and on the Web site of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
She said agents were concerned for the boy's safety because Benitez had been known to live in squalor. He had several known aliases and was rumored to speak Spanish, German, French and Cantonese, according to the FBI.
A $20,000 reward was offered for information leading to his capture.
On Monday afternoon, he showed up at a strip mall in El Monte, a blue-collar Los Angeles suburb of about 116,000 people less than 25 miles from Hawthorne.
Nobody apparently knew the straggle-haired stranger with the child was a wanted man. El Monte police Detective Ralph Batres said an officer was called to the scene at about 2:30 p.m. to investigate a report of a suspicious, possibly homeless man with a child.
"When officers arrived at the location, they found the man who produced a handgun. The man grabbed the male juvenile described in the call and placed him between himself and the officer," the Sheriff's Department statement said.
Benitez took the boy into the restaurant and locked himself in the bathroom with the boy. Nearby streets were evacuated. During two hours of negotiations, Benitez "threatened to kill himself, the juvenile, and any responding officers," the statement said.
Police used a flash-bang device as they entered the restroom in an attempt to rescue the boy and arrest Benitez, it said.
The statement said "an officer-involved shooting occurred." It did not say whether Benitez fired his weapons.
Authorities said Benitez's mother, Alina Elizabeth Velsaco, was being sought.