A 23-year-old Loyola Marymount University graduate was found stabbed to death in her Westchester home Wednesday, January 18th, shortly after she had called police to report that her former boyfriend was trying to enter the house, police said.

The victim was identified as Mary K. Dasaro, a substitute kindergarten teacher at the Westwood Charter School in Los Angeles, police said.

The suspect in the alleged homicide was identified as Dasaro’s former boyfriend, Darren Nelson, 24, of Hawthorne, who was found later the same day after he had set fire to his vehicle in an apparent suicide attempt, police allege.

Nelson sustained second- and third-degree burns to over 60 percent of his body and was taken to the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center, Lincoln Heights, where he died at 3:12 p.m. Friday, January 20th, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Pacific Community Lt. Phil Fontanetta said.

Murder charges were filed against Nelson January 20th, but the case investigation has been closed following his death, Fontanetta said.

There are no other suspects in the alleged homicide, he said.

Dasaro had called 911 shortly after 10 a.m. January 18th, and said that her former boyfriend was trying to break into the house, LAPD Pacific Detective Joe Lumbreras said.

“She told the operator that she had locked herself in one of the bedrooms,” Lumbreras said.

But when LAPD Pacific Community officers arrived at the residence in the 7500 block of Cowan Avenue, Westchester, within four minutes of the 911 call, Dasaro was already dead and the suspect had fled, Lumbreras said.

Nelson had allegedly forced his way into the home through the front door and stabbed Dasaro to death with a large knife that he got from inside the home, police said.

Police alleged that he then fled from the scene in his silver Honda and drove to the area of 64th and Pacific Avenues, near the Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey, where the vehicle was reported on fire.

Police arrived at the scene at about 11:15 a.m., where city fire department paramedics had extinguished the vehicle fire and were treating Nelson, Lumbreras said.

A large knife that police believe may be the weapon used in the alleged homicide was found inside the charred vehicle, but additional tests are being conducted on the knife, Fontanetta said.

Dasaro, a Westchester High School graduate, was a 2005 graduate of the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) liberal arts program, LMU officials said.

She was the daughter of George Dasaro, the Paul Grosch Chair in Accounting at LMU. He has been a faculty member at the university since 1977.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Dasaro family during this most difficult time,” said Ernest Rose, LMU academic vice president. “Mary was an outstanding young woman who will be deeply missed by the LMU community as well as countless friends and family members.”

In a statement released through LMU, the Dasaro family has asked for continued prayers for their daughter:

“The brightest light in our lives has been senselessly extinguished. Mary Kate was our greatest joy and a joy to everyone who knew her.

“In her time with us she gave back so much to everyone she touched. She was an outstanding young woman dedicated to educating children.”

Dasaro had served as a teacher assistant and student teacher at Westwood Charter School since 2003. She was most recently working as a long-term substitute kindergarten teacher while another teacher is on maternity leave, school officials said.

Westwood Charter School principal Judy Utvich said school officials are providing children, families and staff with crisis counseling and will take care of each child’s needs for “as long as necessary.”

“(Ms. Dasaro’s) dedication and commitment to our students, staff and the community here at Westwood Charter School will not be forgotten,” Utvich wrote in a letter to parents. “Mary will always be remembered as a warm, caring and nurturing young woman.

“We will miss her involvement and care of our students.”

Sylvia Cota, caregiver for Tillie Rosenfeld, a neighbor of the Dasaro family, said she saw Dasaro grow up in the neighborhood.

“She was a beautiful little girl and she grew into a beautiful woman,” Cota said. “She had to work hard to accomplish what she did at the age of 23.”

Fontanetta said Dasaro and Nelson reportedly had had an “on again, off again relationship” for several years.

Dasaro had filed a restraining order against Nelson in February 2003, Fontanetta said.

Dasaro had told Nelson sometime last week that she no longer wanted to associate with him and when Nelson tried to talk with Dasaro she refused, Fontanetta said.

“It was one of those domestic situations,” Fontanetta said of the alleged homicide. “We believe (Dasaro) told the suspect that she did not want to see him anymore and that set him off.”

The death of Dasaro is believed to be the first homicide in Westchester since a man was killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting incident near Ramsgate and Manchester Avenues two years ago, Lumbreras said.

In lieu of flowers, Contributions may be made to a fund the Dasaro family has established —the Mary Katherine Dasaro Memorial Fund to aid elementary school education majors as they embark on their student-teaching requirement.

Donations may be sent to the care of Loyola Marymount University School of Education, Development Office, 1 LMU Drive, Suite 2100, Westchester 90045.

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