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Filmmaker John Charles Upton Jr. was killed Thursday after an apparent property dispute with a neighbor.
Upton, 56, was found in the yard of his Encinitas home, and Upton’s neighbor, 61-year-old Michael Vilkin, was charged in the murder. Police said Upton died of “an apparent gunshot wound,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Law enforcement officials did no release a possible motive to the killing, but Vilkin said he and Upton were involved in a disagreement over the trimming of shrubs, telling KGTV in San Diego he shot Upton in self-defense.
“I did not go to him,” Vilkin said. “He came to me threatening and pulled a gun (on) me.”
Vilkin said he owned an empty lot next to Upton’s property. Upton’s brother, Michael Upton, told U-T San Diego that the neighbors had previously argued about trees.
Upton won an Emmy Award in 1990 for an after-school special on sexual activity amongst teenagers. That year, he became a crusader for Romanian orphans after seeing a 20/20 special about deplorable conditions in the country’s orphanages. Upton helped bring an estimated two dozen Romanian children to the U.S. for adoption or medical treatment, and his work helped inspire Richard Branson and Jessica Lange to take up the children’s cause
“There just wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I could do something, that I could make a difference with these kids,” Upton said in 1990. “But I didn’t waste much time thinking about it, I just went.”
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