Victims Enzo Marino Rastelli and Jasper Pieter van der Meulen | Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara SWAT teams arrested two men Thursday morning suspected in the January 7 murders of 19-year-old college students Enzo Marino Rastelli and Jasper Pieter van der Meulen. 

Both were shot in the head in their Audi station wagon parked along Burtis Street in a quiet Noleta neighborhood. Rastelli was declared dead at the scene; van der Meulen died two weeks later at Cottage Hospital. The motive for the brazen daytime killings had remained a mystery and a source of intense speculation among residents and classmates.

Taken into custody at their homes in Santa Barbara were gang members Bryan Munoz, 21, and Joshua Isaac Vega, 24. According to court records, both have only minor criminal histories with previous arrests for driving on a suspended license and evading a peace officer.

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At an afternoon press conference, Sheriff Bill Brown said the murders were the result of a drug deal gone bad. Rastelli and van der Meulen were attempting to sell a half-pound of marijuana, he said, when they were shot in a “robbery rip-off.” “From their perspective, they were selling a bag of dope,” he explained.

Sheriff Bill Brown speaks to the media after the arrests of Brian Munoz and Joshua Isaac Vega | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Munoz, the apparent triggerman, has been charged with two counts of murder and is being held without bail. Vega was booked for robbery and criminal conspiracy.

“The victims of this terrible crime were two college students who made some bad choices and fell victim to what is often thought to be a victimless crime ― the illicit sale of drugs, in this case marijuana,” Brown said. He noted the incident had no known connections to Santa Barbara’s legal cannabis trade.

The Sheriff’s Office is anxious to know if Munoz and Vega were behind any other robbery rip-offs, Brown said. He asked potential victims to contact detectives, promising they wouldn’t be charged for their involvement in whatever exchange had taken place. “We’re not interested in the drug-dealings in this case,” he said. “We’re interested in the violent robberies.”

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“The arrests made today send a clear message to members of criminal street gangs and indeed any other criminal that would come into Santa Barbara County and commit these types of heinous and evil crimes,” Brown said. 

“I can assure you, if you do commit crimes like this in our county, we will hunt you down, we will arrest you, we will put you in jail, and we will bring you to justice.”

Citing ongoing investigations, Brown said he couldn’t comment on reported connections to another high-profile, gang-related double murder that took place just a week before Rastelli and van der Meulen were killed. “We don’t have any information to disclose at this point about that,” he said. “Obviously, that is something that we and the Santa Barbara Police Department will want to take a look at.”

The victims’ car parked on Burtis Street | Credit: Courtesy

In that case, 17-year-old Angel Castillo and 18-year-old Omar Montiel-Hernandez were gunned down on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. Two others were wounded. No arrests have been made and authorities have not disclosed a possible motive.

Van der Meulen was a UCSB freshman living in Isla Vista at the time of the shooting. He was considering a major in Economics with a possible minor in Geology as he “always loved rocks,” his mother Sharon Donohoe said in an email to the Independent. “Jasper will be mourned by many friends and family here in Goleta as well as in the Netherlands, his dad’s country of origin.”

“To honor Jasper’s beautiful and much too short life,” Donohoe continued, “the family are asking that community members consider making a tax deductible contribution to the Giffords Law Center which is working to prevent gun violence across the US through enhanced public safety laws.”

Rastelli was enrolled in SBCC’s Culinary Arts Program. His aunt has created a GoFundMe page to help the family pay for funeral expenses. “He was a bright light who was taken way too early,” she wrote. “We recently FaceTimed over the holidays when he shared many of his dreams and aspirations he had for the year ahead.”

“Food, cooking, and entertaining were his passions,” she continued. “He was a true lover of the outdoors and an amazing athlete. He was loved by many friends.”

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