ONTARIO – Blanca Meza thought it odd that the front door was locked at her Malheur Drive home.
Her oldest child, 24-year-old Daniela Perez, had been home earlier in the day but now was gone. Meza didn’t have a key.
Meza returned home that Tuesday afternoon to ready for her second job. She had ferried her daughter Yadira home from Ontario High School so she could change for soccer practice.
The high school senior crawled through a window to unlock the door.
Meza saw “black blobs” on the floor and assumed someone had spilled something.
The mother and daughter soon left, giving little thought to the locked door.
Hours later, they learned an intruder had gotten into the home, murdered the older daughter, and taken her body into Ontario.
Police intensively searched through the night of Oct. 10 to find the killer. They posted surveillance photos of the man, asking the public to help to identify and find him. They soon learned they were after a long-time drug addict, Conner A. Fry, 30.
Blanca Meza left her Fruitland job and drove a few blocks to Ogawa’s, where her daughter was due to report at 4 p.m. She hadn’t shown up.
Homicides are rare in Malheur County, most committed by people who somehow knew their victims.
By all accounts, Perez and Fry had no connection and the crime jolted the community.
This account of how that crime unfolded is based on court records and interviews with authorities and those who knew Perez.
The young woman described by one friend as “a strong person with a beautiful smile” had determined to become a family therapist.
Family was important to Perez, 24, born in Ontario.
She was the oldest of four children. Her sister, Maria, was a year behind her followed by Yadira, 17, and her brother Miguel, 13.
Her father lived in Mexico and she traveled there often also to visit her grandmother in the northern state of Jalisco. Perez held dual citizenship.
Perez attended local schools, graduating from Ontario High School in 2018, where she had played soccer. She enrolled at Treasure Valley Community College, the first in her family to go to college.
Her second year at college, she roomed with a freshman, Summer Townsend.
“She was the kindest person ever. Her heart was big and it was full of love,” Townsend recalled. “She became like a big sister to me. She knew all the right things to say. Her laughter was contagious.”
Townsend said she asked Perez to tend her plants when she was gone and she accidentally killed a cactus, overwatering it.
“I told her, ‘You killed it from loving it too much,’” Townsend said.
Perez earned her associate’s degree in 2020, worked in a local theater and then joined the staff at Ogawa’s in Fruitland 18 months ago.
“She was one of the best hires we made,” said Connie Huston, owner of Ogawa’s.
Huston said Perez did every job in the house, starting in the sushi bar, then becoming a host, server and helping Huston in the office.
“Daniela was a big hearted, compassionate person who has touched every life that she worked with here,” Huston said.
On Monday, Oct. 9, Perez texted Huston. She asked to adjust her schedule so she could attend her sister’s senior event at Ontario High School. The event was scheduled for that Thursday.
Perez also was taking online classes from Eastern Oregon University, studying psychology. She had been encouraged to enroll by her boyfriend, Marco Ramirez.
The two started dating in November 2022 and had talked recently about starting a family.
But first, they planned to travel to Mexico to introduce Ramirez to Perez’s father and grandmother. Perez and her family were saving money to make the trip in December.
Fry grew up in La Grande and as an adult moved between there and Pendleton.
He attended La Grande High School and at one time worked for an appliance retailer. He had a daughter in 2015 and a second one in 2016 while living in La Grande. The mother got custody after the second child was born for reasons not evident in public records.
By then, Fry was already in trouble with courts and with drugs.
He was accused of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor in an episode in 2013. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to the first of a string of charges he’d face in La Grande and Pendleton.
Fry subsequently completed a residential treatment program in Ontario but had “an inability to be clean and sober,” according to a Union County probation violation report. “He appears to continue to resort to drug use as a coping mechanism.”
He was in and out of jail in La Grande through mid-2017, punishment for not complying with treatment requirements.
By 2019, he was facing new charges in three criminal cases. Two were dismissed when witnesses weren’t available, but Fry pleaded guilty in the third case, admitting to felony crimes of first-degree theft and first-degree burglary.
He was ordered into treatment but his record through 2020 put him back before a judge, facing yet more jail time.
According to court records, Fry was kicked out of a residential treatment program in Pendleton after testing positive for fentanyl and marijuana. A month later, he was hospitalized for overdosing on a mixture of Xanax and fentanyl.
A violation report in Union Court Circuit Court from 2021 noted that Fry did complete one treatment program.
He “gained clean and sober housing, then lost his clean and sober housing due to drug use, continued to abuse controlled substances including fentanyl, been dishonest about this use on multiple occasions, not followed directives, manipulated circumstances to avoid consequences” and then was terminated from another treatment program, the report said.
That spring, he was ordered to be assessed for substance abuse and treatment.
He had been telling his probation officer that he was seeing a counselor, participating in groups and regularly submitting urine tests. But the treatment center reported Fry hadn’t been there in nearly a year.
“Fry admitted he had been lying,” the probation report said.
The report said Fry crashed on Interstate 84 in May 2021.
“Fry told me himself he was not sure if his using heroin, fentanyl and other substance was a contributing factor to the crash,” said a violation report that recommended Fry be jailed for six months.
In July 2021, his probation on theft charges was revoked and he was sentenced to 24 months in the Union County Jail.
When he arrived in Ontario isn’t clear. He was participating in yet another substance abuse treatment program. Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe said Fry recently had been “couch surfing.”
THE MORNING – TUESDAY, OCT. 10
A little after 8 a.m., police dispatchers took a call reporting a suspicious person in a rural area just outside of Ontario city limits.
A Malheur County sheriff’s deputy arrived within 10 minutes to a stretch of Northwest 11th Avenue that is part of a short residential loop off Malheur Drive, west of Oregon Highway 201.
A man sitting in the driver’s seat of the 2012 Honda Fit got out and ran as the deputy approached. The car was stolen, taken from Payette.
Sheriff’s deputies and an Oregon State Police trooper searched for the man, including checking about a block away near the Meza home.
Unaware of the police activity, Blanca Meza at about 9 a.m. headed to her job at Marshalls in Ontario, leaving her daughter Dani sleeping. Perez was scheduled to work at 4 p.m. that day at Ogawa’s.
Roughly a half hour later, police ended their hunt for the driver and left the area.
A relative later dropped by Marshalls to tell Meza about the incident.
At some point between 11:30 a.m. and 1:20 p.m., Fry – who measures about 6 feet and 200 pounds – approached and entered the Meza home. He encountered Perez, but details of what happened then haven’t been disclosed. Police believe she died at the home.
Fry went through the home.
He took a Sony PlayStation that belonged to Miguel. From Meza’s bedroom, he took her pink backpack and a black duffel bag. He took a necklace, a gift to Perez from her boyfriend, her black coat and a shirt belonging to the boyfriend.
He loaded it all into Perez’s 2021 Chevrolet Onix, a subcompact which carried Jalisco license plates. He put Perez’s body in the trunk and drove into Ontario.
THE AFTERNOON – TUESDAY, OCT. 10
In the coming hours, Fry crisscrossed Ontario with Perez’s body still in the trunk.
At 1 p.m., Meza left her retail job in east Ontario to run errands, including shopping.
Just a half hour later, Fry drove about two miles to the Burnt River Farms dispensary in north Ontario, made a purchase, and then drove to the adjacent Love’s Travel Stop and went in. At some point, he dropped Perez’s cell phone into an outside trash can.
About a half hour after Fry was recorded in that area, Meza swung by Ontario High School to pick up her daughter. The varsity soccer player needed to get home to change for practice that afternoon, and mother and daughter got to the Malheur Drive home about 2:15 p.m.
They were there about 30 minutes before leaving again for soccer practice. Meza dropped off Yadira and went on to her second job at Woodgrain, a wood products manufacturer in Fruitland.
At 3:30 p.m., Fry was filmed at the Cricket phone store on East Idaho Avenue.
At the same moment, Miguel hopped off the school bus for home. When he saw his PlayStation missing, he texted his mother. She wouldn’t see the note for another half hour.
Ramirez, the boyfriend, had grown anxious about Perez. He hadn’t been able to raise her on her phone. He started looking for her and used an app to “ping” her phone. The system showed it was at the truck stop.
When Meza finally responded to her son, she advised him to check with his older sister. That’s when she learned the boyfriend was looking for her.
Growing concerned, Meza left her Fruitland job and drove a few blocks to Ogawa’s, where her daughter was due to report at 4 p.m.
She hadn’t shown up.
Meantime, Ramirez had found her phone in the truck stop garbage can.
At 4:37 p.m., Meza called police dispatchers to report her daughter missing.
When she learned from the boyfriend that blood had been found at the house, she drove home, arriving in just minutes. It was then she noticed blood on the doors and carpet.
As it became clear something was wrong, Fry was five miles away. At 5:15 p.m., he steered Perez’s car into the parking lot across from U.S Bank and near Oregon Natural Market, which is at the northwest corner of Southwest Fourth Avenue and Southwest First Street.
He parked and got out, wearing Perez’s black coat and with her mom’s pink backpack slung over one shoulder and her duffel bag under the other. He got rid of them before he entered BP on 4th, a coffee shop just a block from where he left Perez’s car. He settled in to play video poker, leaving sometime after 6 p.m.
THE EVENING – TUESDAY, OCT. 10
Deputies and detectives from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office gathered information from the family and started searching for Perez.
Sheriff Travis Johnson and a detective headed to the truck stop. In their hunt for clues, they picked through contents in the trash can where the phone had been found. A receipt from the Burnt River Farms dispensary triggered an idea.
“I looked over and I could see a camera on that side of the Burnt River building and decided to see if it showed anything,” Johnson said.
They asked dispensary employees for access to the store’s surveillance video. That showed Fry arrive in Perez’s car. They now had a suspect but no idea who he was.
By 6:15 p.m., Johnson called out the county’s major crimes team, including investigators from several agencies.
With the family’s help, police accessed the Onstar Guardian system, which provides vehicle tracking. At 7 p.m., the system pinned the Perez vehicle at the downtown Ontario parking lot where Fry had abandoned it.
Fifteen minutes later, police located the car and using a spare key from the boyfriend, opened the trunk, finding Perez.
Police located more video showing Fry – at the natural food market, the coffee shop.
They still had no name, but they worked through the night to get one, certain that Fry was still around Ontario.
Meantime, Fry somehow made his way back to east Ontario, recorded inside the GameStop retail story on East Idaho Avenue.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 11
Just after 1 a.m., the Portland FBI posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, sharing two screenshots of Fry at Love’s and one from the parking lot.
“The FBI is assisting Malheur Co Sheriff’s Office in the search for an adult male who is considered armed & dangerous and could be in the Ontario area. The man is pictured wearing a white “bowling-like” shirt w/ stripes & a lanyard,” the FBI said.
Later that morning, the sheriff’s office shared more photos in a Facebook post.
“Public warning… This at-large adult male is a person of interest in the death of a female located in a car in Ontario. If you see him or know of his location call Dispatch,” the post said.
People soon recognized him and shared his name with police and on social media.
Goldthorpe, the district attorney, had enough information by mid-morning to get a warrant for Fry’s arrest on murder charges.
Investigators also “pinged” the phone they believed Fry was carrying.
A cell phone “ping” allows police – with a court order except in emergencies – to determine the location of a specific cell phone using GPS data or by triangulating a phone’s connections to cell towers. That showed the phone – and likely Fry – was on the move through the day.
Finally, late in the afternoon, the phone seemed to stop moving. Police used the GPS data to identify a location in a residential neighborhood a couple of blocks west of North Oregon Street, north of downtown Ontario.
Fry was in a garage behind a house on Northwest 7th Avenue when police surrounded the location. He emerged, apparently unaware police were there.
When a sheriff’s deputy challenged him, he dove into thick vegetation.
Moments later, at about 7 p.m., police heard a muffled shot.
Fry had shot himself, dying at the scene.
As word spread first of the murder and then the manhunt, the community rallied around the family.
A Gofundme account set up to cover costs of sending Perez’s body back to Mexico quickly exceeded its $15,000 goal. By Sunday, 380 donors had given $24,102.
“You were the most kind and outgoing person anyone could ever meet. You truly were a blessing to everyone,” one donor wrote on the site.
On Friday, a benefit car wash at Ontario High School drew a steady stream of customers who filled a coin box with $20, $50 and $100 bills.
On Sunday, a celebration of life was held at the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Fruitland. The announcement of the service urged those attending to wear black “as this was her favorite color.” The family also asked that there be no flowers.
“Dani preferred plants and succulents,” the announcement said.
Her mother said a police officer told her that drugs played a role in the crime. They suspect Fry was high on methamphetamine or a similar narcotic.
For that, Meza blames Oregon’s decriminalization of drugs and dispensaries proliferating in Ontario. She said the community is less safe as a result.
“It could happen to anybody,” she said, urging people to lock their home doors and windows and remain alert.
“We’re supposed to go to bed knowing that we’re going to wake up the next day and see our loved ones,” Meza said.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].
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