Suspect to be arraigned in death of North County filmmaker
VISTA (CNS) – A 61-year-old man accused of gunning down a North County
documentary filmmaker outside the victim's home following a months-long dispute
over foliage in the neighborhood is scheduled to be arraigned in Vista Tuesday.
Michael Vilkin of Encinitas was arrested on suspicion of first-degree
murder on Thursday, hours after he allegedly shot Olivenhain resident John
Upton, who gained fame for his crusade to rescue Romanian orphans living in
nightmarish conditions during the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Upton, 56, died on a dirt path in his yard in the 2900 block of Lone
Jack Road shortly after 9 a.m. The slaying evidently resulted from a running
dispute between the two men, said sheriff's Lt. James Bolwerk, who declined to
In a jailhouse interview, the suspect, who owns a vacant lot next to
Upton's property, said he fired the fatal shots in self-defense.
Vilkin said he was trimming shrubbery — an
activity that he called the source of the ill will between the men — when
Upton confronted him and demanded that he stop, then pulled a gun. The suspect
said he shot the filmmaker in the abdomen and head with a .44-caliber Magnum
pistol to protect himself.
“I did not go to him,” Vilkin said. “He came to me threatening and
pulled a gun (on) me. I did not go to him. I stayed (following the shooting).”
Upton's brother praised his late sibling as “a good man” who “saved a
lot of kids.”
The filmmaker, a father of three, showed video footage of the orphans to
couples and succeeded in getting dozens of the children adopted. He also
gained the attention of influential activists, inspiring billionaire
philanthropist Richard Branson, actress Jessica Lange and lawmakers to help
rescue some 5,000 youngsters from Romania.