Tourist's family had concerns about Vegas trip

LAS VEGAS - Heather Vitarelli's family was concerned that Las Vegas might not be the safest place. But, the tourist decided to come here anyway with a group of friends to celebrate their birthdays.

On Friday morning, Vitarelli, a college student from Napa, Calif., who grew up in Maui, was shot and killed by a stray bullet while standing near the casino cage at Harrah's on the Las Vegas Strip.

''I was so mad when we were told because I don't like Las Vegas to begin with,'' said Naoka Vitarelli, a resident of Hawaii and Heather's aunt.

Las Vegas police Lt. Wayne Petersen said Vitarelli just happened to be standing yards from a struggle between Harrah's security officers and a theft suspect when the suspect pulled out a gun and fired several shots at 1:20 a.m. Friday. Vitarelli, 29, was struck in the back by a stray bullet and died at the scene.

One of the security officers involved in the struggle, Frank Harris, 43, of Las Vegas, was shot in the stomach. He was in fair condition Saturday at University Medical Center.

Naoka Vitarelli said her family was worried about Heather's trip because of Las Vegas' ''reputation.'' But when Heather told her family she was actually going to be celebrating both her birthday and the birthdays of at least two of her friends at a lake near Las Vegas - presumably Lake Mead - the Vitarelli family was relieved.

''I don't like the gambling - Las Vegas doesn't fit our lifestyle,'' Naoka Vitarelli said. ''When she told us she had big plans to go to the lake near Las Vegas, we thought, 'Well, that's OK, she doesn't actually have to be in Las Vegas. That is better than going into Las Vegas.' ''

Stephen Mullen, 32, and Michael Frimmel, 31, were arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder. Police said Mullen was the gunman.

The gun was stolen in Virginia and both men have prior arrest records in other states involving thefts and drugs, Petersen said. Both men have been staying in a small Strip hotel north of the Stratosphere for about a month, though police aren't sure of their hometowns or if the names under which they were arrested are their true identities.

Harrah's security officers stopped the two men near the main casino cage because they matched the description of men who had stolen a customer's purse about 6 p.m. Thursday, Petersen said.

When police tried to handcuff Mullen, he pulled out a semiautomatic pistol from his pants and fired two shots. The security officer was hit first and the other bullet went through a pant leg of the security supervisor and hit Vitarelli.

Naoka Vitarelli said Heather was planning to work as a social worker or counselor in Hawaii once she received her degree because she loved helping people.

''She was a beautiful girl, both physically and beautiful in every other way as well,'' Naoka Vitarelli said. ''She worked as much as she could and was always supporting herself, working a couple of different jobs in Napa.''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment