Westminster Police Department releases suspect photos and video in connection with Feb. 5 hotel homicide, seeks information

By Jessica Peralta

Westminster PD released photos and surveillance footage of a suspect wanted in connection with the killing of 22-year-old Treeanna Nichols, of Pasadena, who was found stabbed to death in a Westminster hotel room on Feb. 5.

“This was a brutal murder of a young woman and we hope today that information that we’re sharing with you and the community, we can bring her killer to justice,” said WPD Public Information Officer Commander Cameron Knauerhaze during a noon press conference at the station on March 14.

A photo of Treeanna Nichols, right, is displayed during a press conference asking for the public’s help identifying the suspect in her murder. From left at the podium is Deputy Chief Al Panella, Police Chief Ralph Ornelas, Commander Cameron Knauerhaze and Detective James Wilson.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Knauerhaze – standing alongside one of the case’s lead detectives, Jim Wilson, Chief Ralph Ornelas and Deputy Chief Al Panella, who oversees the detectives bureau – began the conference with a moment of silence for the Nichols family, homicide and crime victims in general, as well as a reminder that April 8 to 14 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

“Treeanna Nichols should not be remembered as just a victim, she was a daughter, a friend and a human being,” said Knauerhaze. “No one deserves the violent death that she endured.”

WPD officers responded to a call for a welfare check from the hotel clerk at the Westminster Quality Inn & Suites (6601 Westminster Blvd.) at 10:56 p.m. on Feb. 5. The officers found Nichols dead in her hotel room. Following an autopsy, the medical examiner determined she died as a result of multiple stab wounds during an assault, said Knauerhaze.

Treeanna Nichols was murdered February 5, 2018. Westminster Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect of her murder.
Photo provided by Westminster PD

“Members of the Westminster Police Department commit to the family of Treeanna Nichols and to the community that we work tirelessly to bring this case to a resolution,” he said.

During the press conference, Knauerhaze projected surveillance footage and images of the suspect and his suspected vehicle on a large screen and monitors. He asked the media and the community at large to share the information.

Westminster PD is asking for the public’s help identifying a suspect in the February 5, 2018 murder of Treeanna Nichols.
Photo provided by Westminster PD

“We think that this evidence will really help solve this case,” he said.

In one of the surveillance videos, the suspect – a 5-foot 10-inches tall and approximately 200-pound white or Hispanic male between 25 and 30 years old – is seen walking up a stairwell at the hotel at approximately 3 p.m. on the day of Nichols’ homicide. He is wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt, dark, long-sleeved jacket, dark pants and shoes, and holding a silver vaping device in his left hand. Police believe the homicide occurred shortly after the suspect was seen arriving at the hotel. Nichols was alone in her hotel room, according to Knauerhaze.

Westminster PD is asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect in the February 5, 2018 murder of Treeanna Nichols.
Photo provided by Westminster PD

“The suspect is vaping with his left hand, using a silver-colored vape and it looks like it has a red piece on the bottom,” said Knauerhaze. “We believe he’s left-handed based on the way he’s holding that.”

Knauerhaze said the goal of releasing the video and photos is for the public to take note of all the details relating to the suspect – how he walks, that his shoulders are wide, etc.

Westminster PD is asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect in the February 5, 2018 murder of Treeanna Nichols.
Photo provided by Westminster PD

“We believe the suspect parked west of the location in a residential area,” he said. “We believe the suspect walked from that location and we know that because we got a picture of his vehicle. We believe he walked directly to that room [222] on the second floor of the hotel. We saw him as he hit the stairwell and walked up to the second floor, taking a couple last-minute hits off of the vape.”

He said the agency is still investigating on whether the victim and suspect knew each other.

“She had just checked in to the hotel. Had only been there for a short time,” he said. “At this point we’re exploring all avenues in terms of how they knew each other and how they met. … The suspect was there for just a short period of time.”

Knauerhaze said there was no evidence of forced entry.

“We believe that the suspect was either let in the room or found an opportunity to get in when the door was open,” he said.

WPD investigators also believe the suspect may have been injured.

“At this point we’re speculating that there was a struggle,” Knauerhaze said. “We have some evidence to suggest that the suspect was injured during the assault as well.”

Upon leaving the hotel room, the suspect took a different path from where he entered, said Knauerhaze. He went through the courtyard area “returned to his vehicle and fled the area undetected.”

Images of what is believed to be the suspect’s vehicle were also released.

“So right now we’re looking at a late model, four-door dark-colored sedan … it may be a Toyota looking at it, we’re just not 100 percent,” he said. “These videos are also being further analyzed by some of our other investigative resources. We may have better information at a later time, but that’s what we’re working with right now.”

As the investigators work on following all leads, the motive is still under investigation, Knauerhaze said.

“We’re exploring every avenue at this point,” he said. “Whether it was financial gain, whether it was relationship-related. We just don’t know. Obviously without Treeanna here to tell us, we have to answer those questions.”

Knauerhaze said the agency has been in touch with Nichols’ family, who went to the crime scene the day of the homicide.

“I personally spoke with the father, he’s obviously very distraught losing a daughter in this manner,” he said. “He has been very cooperative along with all the other family members as well.”

Though Nichols’ relationships are still being investigated, Knauerhaze said she had many friends and family residing in Orange County.

“We’re learning a little bit more about her each day,” he said.

Anyone with information on this case is urged to call the Westminster Police Department tip-line at 714-898-3315 Ext. 4572. Callers can remain anonymous or tips can also be given by calling Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.