LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man whose son disappeared after visiting Disneyland two months ago planned the 5-year-old's murder to get back at his estranged wife during a "tumultuous" divorce and then tried to commit suicide before heading to Las Vegas to prepare to flee the country, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department officials said Monday.
Aramazd Andressian Sr., 35, was arrested Friday in Las Vegas on suspicion of killing Aramazd Andressian Jr. and charged with one count of murder, according to law enforcement officials. A body has not turned up.
Sheriff's Homicide Bureau Lt. Joe Mendoza said the investigation into the death included several weeks of surveillance, during which the suspect "consistently" changed his appearance, acted in a manner inconsistent with the behavior of a grieving parent and appeared to be planning to flee the country.
"This is one of those cases that tore people's hearts," Capt. Christopher Bergner of the Sheriff's Department Homicide Bureau said at a news conference Monday.
Mendoza said the suspect had spent the 47 days prior to his arrest "socializing" in Las Vegas, where he remains in custody in lieu of $10 million bail pending an extradition hearing Tuesday. He appeared to be planning to flee the United States to a country from which he could not be extradited, Mendoza said.
Sheriff's officials have not provided specifics on any new evidence explaining the suspect's latest arrest. He was originally arrested in Los Angeles County shortly after his son went missing but was later released for lack of evidence.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office filed one count of murder against Aramazd Andressian Sr. last week. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Lacey said that while "no-body cases" present a challenge for prosecutors, her office has successfully obtained convictions in many such cases.
Andressian Sr.'s attorney, Daniel Nardoni, told Fox11News Monday that he was surprised by the arrest: "I was surprised to see that he was arrested on the charge of murder in particular since they haven't found a body and since he's been adamant from day one he hasn't done (anything) to harm his son or done anything to jeopardize his welfare," Nardoni said.
The boy was last seen at 1 a.m. on April 21 leaving Disneyland with his father, who was found unconscious at Arroyo Seco Park the next day and was unable to account for his son's whereabouts. His car had been doused with gasoline and prescription drugs were found at the scene.
Mendoza said the alleged slaying appeared to be the result of a "tumultuous divorce" between the boy's mother and father. The sheriff's lieutenant alleged that the murder was "pre-planned" and took place between the time father and son left Disneyland and the man was discovered unconscious at the South Pasadena park, the result of an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
The elder Andressian has been uncooperative and has allegedly given false information to investigators since he was placed under suspicion, Mendoza said. He told investigators he arrived at the park with his son and waited for the golf course to open, and admitted ingesting prescription medication that was not prescribed to him, Mendoza said previously.
The father said he did not remember what happened to his child or any details that were useful in locating the boy, according to Mendoza, who said a prescription bottle was found inside Andressian's vehicle, which was doused with gasoline inside and out.
Andressian was in the middle of a divorce and custody battle with the boy's mother, Ana Estevez, who investigators have said is not a suspect in the child's disappearance.
The search for the boy has spanned several Southern California counties, including in the Lake Cachuma Recreation Area near Santa Barbara, where Andressian told authorities he took the boy the day after the Disneyland trip. Law enforcement officials intend to continue searching for the boy's body in Santa Barbara County, Mendoza said.
Detectives also served a warrant at the Montebello home of the boy's paternal grandmother on May 25. The boy's father had reportedly recently moved into the home, where investigators "seized various items of evidence," according to a sheriff's statement released at the time.
On April 28, the day a search warrant was served at his South Pasadena home, Andressian released a statement through his attorney saying, in part, that he hoped and prayed "for the safe return of my only child, my namesake ..." It was his only public comment on the boy's disappearance.
The child's mother contacted police at 9 a.m. April 22 to report her son missing. She said her estranged husband had failed to drop off the child at a pre-arranged meeting place.
A $20,000 reward has been offered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for information that helps authorities locate the child, who is white, 4-feet-1 and 55 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes and a small mole on the bottom of his right shoulder.
In a statement read Monday by Bergner, the boy's mother thanked investigators and volunteers who worked on the case. She said she will miss "Piqui" -- her pet name for her son -- "each and every second of every day for the rest of my life."
"Piqui was everything great in my life and I cannot imagine the emptiness and void that I will bear until we are together again someday," she said.