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Friends and co-workers are mourning the death of Junko Hanafusa, who was slain while walking her dog at El Camino College on Dec. 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Goldrich Kest)
Friends and co-workers are mourning the death of Junko Hanafusa, who was slain while walking her dog at El Camino College on Dec. 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Goldrich Kest)

Junko Hanafusa and her dog, Cherry, were inseparable, often spotted by neighbors taking walks through Torrance’s McMaster Park area neighborhood gathering recyclables, and warmly greeting whomever they met along the way.

Their last journey together on Christmas Eve morning took them to El Camino College, where outside the school gymnasium the unthinkable happened. Law enforcement officials say Hanafusa, 65, was collecting bottles and cans when 40-year-old Jeffery Davis, described as a transient, with a sledgehammer.

It was not clear how Davis allegedly obtained the sledgehammer or why he was carrying it.

Cherry remained devoted to Hanafusa to the end, refusing to leave her side even as she was on the ground unconscious and bleeding. She died on Christmas Day at a local hospital.

The fatal attack appears to have been random and isn’t considered a hate crime directed at Hanafusa, who is Asian, according to Lt. Mike Gomez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau. A specific motive has not been determined.

A passerby discovered Hanafusa and notified authorities. El Camino College police reviewed surveillance video and identified Davis as a suspect due to their previous interactions with him, Gomez said.

About two hours later, Davis was apprehended in Alondra Community Regional Park, where he was known to frequent. The 53-acre county park borders the Torrance-area college, which was on winter break and devoid of students when the attack occurred.

“Thanks to the passerby who called 9-1-1 and the quick response of the El Camino College campus police, this person is now behind bars, in (Los Angeles County) jail, without the possibility of bail, and cannot pose a threat to this community any longer,” Janice Hahn, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement regarding Davis’ arrest.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has filed first-degree murder charges against Davis, who is scheduled for arraignment Jan. 17 in Torrance Superior Court.

Jail booking records indicate Davis has been arrested for at least nine misdemeanors and felonies since March 2022. El Camino College police arrested him in May 2023 for a misdemeanor. Details of that arrest were not immediately available.

The El Camino College Police Department has added officers and cadets and is collaborating with neighboring law enforcement agencies to beef up its presence on campus in the wake of the homicide, said Chief Michael Trevis, who expressed condolences to Hanafusa’s family.

El Camino College celebrates the opening of its new gymnasium on campus near Torrance on Feb. 21, 2020. The facility cost $35 million. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
El Camino College celebrates the opening of its new gymnasium on campus near Torrance on Feb. 21, 2020. The facility cost $35 million. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Neighborhood on edge

Meanwhile, Hanafusa’s death has sent shock waves through her close-knit McMaster Park neighborhood.

“I’m on edge,” said Leslie Andersen, who lives in the neighborhood. “I’m unsure about going back on my morning walk. I don’t go near El Camino College or Alondra Park, but it’s still unnerving.”

Residents are concerned about the area’s homeless population, particularly those who are mentally ill, Andersen said. “Our little neighborhood always felt fairly safe,” she added. “I don’t have any answers, but something needs to be done.”

Andersen and Hanafusa met while walking their dogs. “While they played, we chitchatted,” she said, adding that Cherry has since been adopted by a neighbor.

Andersen described Hanafusa as thoughtful and generous, giving her and several neighbors Christmas gifts. She and her husband decided to return the favor and walked to Hanafusa’s house on Christmas Eve to drop off some homemade candy. They were met at the door by Hanafusa’s sister, who told them of the horrific attack.

“It is so tragic,” Andersen said. “Just gut-wrenching.”

Another resident of the McMaster Park neighborhood, Adrianne Luther, said that while she wasn’t personally acquainted with Hanafusa, she and Cherry were well-known.

“I do wish I did take the time to get to know her,” Luther said. “I’m hearing nothing but good things about her.

A former resident, who asked not to be identified out of respect for Hanafusa’s family, added: “Everyone in the neighborhood who knew her loved her, and everyone is devastated.”

Affordable housing advocate

Hanafusa, who is survived by two sisters and a niece, worked for 39 years at Goldrich Kest, a Culver City-based property management company, where she served as the company’s primary contact for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and associated housing authority offices.

According to Goldrich Kest, Hanafusa was a respected affordable housing expert.

“She was also one of the strongest affordable housing advocates in California,” the company said in a statement. “Her efforts contributed to us earning countless affordable housing industry awards both in California and nationwide. Thus, her loss will be felt not only by us, but by city and state governments and the affordable housing industry as a whole.”

The company added that Hanafusa’s “staunch dedication to her work was only matched by her unparalleled kindness toward others.”

“The contributions she made during her 39 years with us will leave a void that can never be filled,” the statement said. “Our hope is that Junko be remembered for the exemplary life she led rather than the brutal nature of her death. Goldrich Kest fully supports our elected officials who are addressing the role mental health issues play in terms of violent crime and its impact on society.”

Several Goldrich Kest co-workers also remembered Hanafusa fondly.

Sylvia Rubalcava, the firm’s vice president of human resources, described her as “soft-spoken, kind, always smiling and firm.”

Hanafusa was “very passionate about her work and always willing to teach and offer her assistance,” she added.

Rubalcava last saw Hanafusa on Dec. 13 during Goldrich Kest’s holiday luncheon. “She looked happy that the executives were serving lunch to the Goldrich Kest staff,” Rubalcava said. “It was a good day.”

Rubalcava was stunned when a co-worker told her Hanafusa had been killed. “Of course, my immediate reaction was disbelief, and then the anger set in,” she said. “A beautiful life was taken. She was a great leader and friend. Many of us are very angry about losing Junko in this manner.”

Kara Rawson, director of information management at Goldrich Kest, recalled that Hanafusa had a deft sense of humor.

In a 2020 company video honoring her 35th anniversary at Goldrich Kest, Hanafusa recalled how in the 1980s employees in her department had to share a single computer. “One day … someone unplugged the cord and we lost a lot of information,” she said with a laugh.

More than three years later, Rawson still finds Hanafusa’s anecdote amusing. “She was cracking up telling the story and it was just contagious,” Rawson said. “I can’t watch that video and not smile.”

On Thursday, Jan. 4, Goldrich Kest employees gathered to remember Hanafusa. “It was very healing to speak about her,” Rubalcava​ said. “Many of us cried and spoke of good memories of Junko. Her death has left a big void at Goldrich Kest.”

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