She was saving money to move back to Nicaragua. Then she was killed on an L.A. subway

Each night for Mirna Soza was a bit like the last. She worked every day for the last three years as a security guard at Original Tommy’s hamburgers in North Hills, clocking in around 7 p.m. and working until 3 or 4 a.m.

Then, usually, she would hang around the restaurant until the sun started to rise before taking public transit home, where she would sleep until she had to wake up and do it again. It was safer to ride when the sun came up, she thought. But sometimes she was too tired to wait and she’d leave earlier, as she did Monday morning.

It’s not possible to know what Soza was thinking about that day as she took the B Line home from work. She might have been thinking about the small house she was having built back in Nicaragua. The house was in Managua, where two of her three children live. It was halfway through construction. She was hoping it could be ready within the year so she could move home. Or she might have been thinking about her two grandchildren, 13 and 10, in Managua.

But just before 5 a.m. Monday, Soza was stabbed to death on the train she rode every day. She was cut on the face and the throat and stumbled onto the platform at the Universal City station, according to authorities. Rescue workers came to the scene and took her to Cedars-Sinai, where she died.

Half an hour after she was stabbed, police arrested Elliot Tramel Nowden and booked him on suspicion of murder. Nowden had pleaded no contest in 2019 to attacking a Metro passenger; a judge ordered him to stay away from Metro trains for three years in that case.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón charged Nowden with murder and first-degree robbery. The murder charge includes a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery, which carries a possible sentence of life in prison, prosecutors said.

The killing stole the life of a woman whom relatives described as living a lonely existence in Los Angeles, who moved to the city to make money as best she could so that she could one day move back to Nicaragua to live more comfortably. Soza, 66, was born in Matagalpa, where she lived until she had children and moved the family to Managua. In Matagalpa, she inherited her parents’ small farm where she grew beans, according to her daughter, Mirna Roman Soza, who lives in Managua.

Soza went to college in Nicaragua and studied ecology, her daughter said.

“She loved insects and nature. She taught us to go to big fields and catch insects,” Roman Soza said.

She had many more friends and family in Managua and Matagalpa than in Los Angeles, where she focused on her work and making money so she could move home. She lived alone in the city for five years before her son moved in with her in 2023. Her days were spent in Los Angeles, but her home was always Nicaragua. She found Los Angeles dangerous. Mostly she worked and she slept, her daughter said.

“She was very alone in that country. Pretty alone, by herself until my brother got there. What kept her going was her plans. Her dreams,” Roman Soza said.

Still, in Los Angeles Soza had interests and always loved talking to new people. Even though her English was not great, she would try to practice with people who didn’t speak Spanish. She loved going to the market and making friends there. She also always helped homeless people as much as she could, her daughter said. Sometimes she would bring food to the people who lived on the street near Tommy’s.

“She saw them as people who needed help, not as people who would harm her,” Roman Soza said. “She used to be very kind and merciful. She used to be very sweet with people like that.”

Soza was grateful for the work at Tommy’s because of her age. She did not carry any weapon on the job, she just wore a security outfit at the 24-hour restaurant. She usually got home around 6 or 7 a.m. When she didn’t arrive Monday, the family began to worry, according to Roman Soza.

They called Tommy’s to make sure she’d been at work. Son-in-law Jose Castillo said the manager told him that she’d left around 3 or 4 a.m. after her shift ended.

“We just started calling different hospitals and checking the news,” Castillo said.

But no one knew where Soza was.

Later that day, her son Jose Leon got a call from a Los Angeles Police Department detective who said he needed to come down to the station. The detective had Soza’s phone.

“We were thinking so many horrible things. We also had hope,” said Roman Soza.

Their hope diminished when they saw on local news that a woman had been killed on the train. They knew Soza took the train every night.

“We couldn’t believe it. It must be someone else. It can’t be her. But … my brother calls us and told us the horrible news,” Roman Soza said. “That she was dead. Just like that.”

Violent crimes have increased on Metro trains since 2019. Homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies were all up in 2023 compared with 2019. In December 2023, the B Line saw an 18% increase in total crime compared with the previous month, with an increase in aggravated assaults, robberies and larcenies.

Soza told her family she saw crazy things on the train, but said she felt safe because she did not believe anyone would target a woman of her age.

“Nobody imagines something like that is going to happen to you. It’s a nightmare, something unreal,” Roman Soza said.

Soza lived in the future, her daughter said. She was even saving money to buy a plot at a cemetery in Nicaragua. Now the family is hoping to repatriate her remains to her home country by raising money on GoFundMe.

Roman Soza had not seen her mother in six years, since Soza moved to Los Angeles. They talked every day about how much they missed each other, how badly Soza wanted to get back to Managua to see her grandchildren.

When Soza’s phone turned on around 5:30 a.m. Monday — probably in the possession of a police officer — a final text came through to her daughter.

It was a video about how much grandmothers love their grandchildren.

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