BY SALVADOR HERNANDEZ, DOUG IRVING AND GREG HARDESTY / STAFF WRITERS
The 17-year-old found stabbed to death in Yorba Linda this week was set to start college at Northern Arizona University in the fall.
A former cheerleader at Peary Middle School in Gardena with a love for softball, Parks was taking college-prep classes at Middle College High School in Los Angeles and, according to her godmother, aspired to be a lawyer.
But Tuesday morning, authorities found Parks more than 30 miles away from home, lying partially on a grassy curb of a Yorba Linda street lined with multimillion-dollar homes.
Fully clothed and without ID, she had been stabbed multiple times in the upper torso.
A suspect, Larry Soo Shin, 35, is being held without bail in county jail on suspicion of murder while lying in wait. Thursday, a judge carried over his arraignment to Feb. 28.
The portrait beginning to emerge of a girl taking steps toward higher education clashes sharply with the life Parks apparently was living in the days leading up to her death.
A week before the early-morning attack, she had been reported missing.
And Thursday, law enforcement officials said she had been taken into custody in Santa Ana on Jan. 24 during a prostitution sting.
While details of what led to the fatal confrontation that has shaken a Yorba Linda neighborhood remain unclear, loved ones of Parks said they were trying to piece together the teenager's last days – and square their image of her with her recent run-in with Santa Ana police.
“My baby wasn't a prostitute,” Mantonette McKinney, Park's mother, said. “It's not what we instilled in her.”
Parks and two women were taken into custody by members of the Santa Ana police vice unit during a regular crackdown, Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
Parks, Bertagna said, was detained while walking in the area of Harbor Boulevard. She was not arrested or charged with prostitution. Following an investigation, police arrested Marsalis Joseph Smith, 26, from the Los Angeles area, on suspicion of human trafficking.
Because Parks is a minor, she was taken to a shelter in Orange County after being detained Jan. 24. Sometime between Jan. 24 and Jan. 28, however, she walked out of the shelter, law enforcement officials said.
McKinney said she had been in contact with her daughter after Santa Ana police detained her, but said the teenager was afraid to come home.
“There's something that occurred that she was afraid to tell us,” McKinney said in an interview.
The circumstances of Parks' death may touch on a recent debate in Orange County about how minors suspected of prostitution should be treated by the criminal justice process. Are they victims of abuse or juvenile delinquents, and should they be locked up for their own protection?
Minors involved in prostitution are often runaways, and walk-outs from shelters are routine. Officials worry simply releasing them puts them back on the streets or in the hands of pimps.
And the other option, locking them up at Juvenile Hall, doesn't seem to fit a growing view of prostitutes as victims of abuse who require counseling.
In recent years, a commission organized by Orange County's Juvenile Court has discussed a locked facility staffed by trained counselors to keep minors off the street while still treating them like victims.
Meanwhile, McKinney and other loved ones are consumed with trying to understand what led to her daughter's death.
“She was a normal 17-year-old,” said Georgia Smith, Parks' godmother. “She's a baby. There's really nothing else I can say. She was a child growing into a woman. That's what she was.”
“Aubrey,” as she was known to loved ones and friends, would have been the first in her family to attend college. “Her major goal in life was to excel and be better, every single day,” Smith said.
According to prosecutors, Shin had been communicating with Parks, asking her to meet him in Yorba Linda.
“After (Parks) arrived, Shin is accused of stabbing and murdering her and leaving her body on a greenbelt,” a statement from the District Attorney's Office read.
On Thursday, officials with the Sheriff's Department declined to release details of what led to the stabbing on Mirkwood Run and Live Oak Lane.
Neither Parks nor Shin lived in the area, officials said. How she first came into contact with Shin also was unclear.
Asked whether Shin and Parks had any prior contact before that day, Lt. Jeff Hallock of the Orange County Sheriff's Department said that, too, was under investigation.
According to public records, Shin is a resident of Yorba Linda but lived with his mother in a townhome more than a mile away from where the attack occurred.
Smith declined to speak in detail about why Parks may have been in Yorba Linda. She said only that Parks had been “trying to come home” in recent weeks and had been calling her mother.
“My friend's not supposed to bury her child,” she said.
Staff writers Keegan Kyle, Amy Wilson, Claudia Koerner, Eric Hartley and Scott Schwebke contributed to this report.