VISTA, Calif. — 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 elaborate.
In a jailhouse interview, the suspect, who owns a vacant lot next to Upton’s property, told 10News he fired the fatal shots in self-defense.
Vilkin told the television station 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.