He was busying himself in his spacious backyard around 6:45 p.m. Thursday in Mission Viejo when he heard the rustling coming from behind a shed.
Justin Helstien’s wife, Hala, was inside, making carnitas.
Justin noticed a wheelbarrow overturned against a planter.
Then he saw the form of the man and his face peering out from underneath the wheelbarrow.
For nearly three hours, Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies — aided by the Aviation Support Unit and two K9s — had been scouring the neighborhood around the 29000 block of Consuelo Place on Oct. 18, searching for an attempted murder suspect.
At around 4 p.m. that day, in an unprovoked attack, a 28-year-old man who lives down the street grabbed a knife with a 4-inch blade and plunged it into the abdomen of his 17-year-old sister. As a younger sister locked herself in a room, the injured teen called 911.
Her brother, who authorities say has a history of mental illness, fled the house in boxer shorts and a burgundy sweatshirt.
Only a wall separates the Helstiens’ backyard from a path that students at Capistrano Valley High School use to get to and from school.
And only a few minutes before Helstien saw the man behind the wheelbarrow, three young kids (ages 8, 5 and 1) who live next door — the children of Helstien’s friend, Matt Blain — had been romping around just feet away from the shed as a crew worked on a new pool deck.
Now, with darkness approaching, Helstien, 32, was alone with the man behind the wheelbarrow. It had quieted down, the OCSD helicopter having peeled off to another area.
Earlier, deputies had set up a perimeter and canvassed the neighborhood. Some deputies went to Capo Valley High to protect the students participating in after-school activities. The students were asked to shelter-in-place.
Helstien was well aware of the search and figured the man around five feet away from him behind the wheelbarrow — thin, about 6 feet tall, white, with a buzz cut, and now completely nude — was the suspect the OCSD was looking for.
Helstien reached into his left pocket, took out a utility knife he habitually carries, and told the man in no uncertain terms not to move.
He then grabbed his cell phone and momentarily considered dialing 911.
Knowing his neighbor, Matt Blain, has a Carrying a Concealed Weapon permit, he called Matt instead.
He prayed his friend would pick up his phone.
Matt, who was preparing dinner for his kids, answered.
“Matt,” Justin asked. “Do you have your gun? I need you in my backyard now.”
“Are you serious?” asked Matt, a U.S. Army veteran and recipient of a Purple Heart who served six years and completed two tours of Afghanistan, retiring as a staff sergeant.
Within 30 seconds, Matt, also 32, was by his friend’s side, aiming his gun at the man behind the wheelbarrow.
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the man said.
Helstien called 911 and within three minutes, OCSD deputies arrived and took the man into custody without incident.
Before they got there, the man behind the wheelbarrow had asked Justin and Matt if they had a lighter. He had a cigarette tucked behind an ear.
He also asked if he could get dressed. His clothes were nearby.
No way, the two told him. Stay where you are, and don’t move.
The OCSD isn’t identifying the suspect, who was booked into Orange County Jail on suspicion of attempted murder and is being held on $500,000 bail. Doing so, the agency said, would subsequently identify a juvenile crime victim, who is expected to survive her injuries.
But Friday, Oct. 19, the OCSD was happy to praise the actions of the two men.
A deputy who responded the night before, Sgt. Jeff Crowley, presented Helstien and Blain with challenge coins for their assistance.
Late Friday afternoon, Mission Viejo City Chief Lt. Quyen Vuong stopped by to thank the two.
“If all of Mission Viejo citizens could be as vigilant as these guys, we would always be the safest city,” Vuong said.
Vuong said if the knife had entered the 17-year-old’s abdomen less than an inch away from where it did, she likely would have died.
“We were chasing a very dangerous suspect that posed an immediate threat to the community and was in close proximity to Capistrano Valley High School,” Vuong said. “We knew we had to find this guy.”
He called Helstien and Blain heroes.
The two say they just did their part to keep their families and community safe.
“I wasn’t just going to walk away and let this guy get away,” Helstien said.
Added Blain: “I’m fortunate to live in Orange County, which support a person’s right to defend himself or herself by offering Carrying a Concealed Weapon permits.”