DOWNEY, Calif. (AP) — Police in suburban Los Angeles say they’re certain of this much: Five family members who were shot — three of them killed — had been targeted by the gunman.
But that led to a pair of major uncertainties: Who shot them, and why?
“We do not believe this was a random act of violence,” Downey police Lt. Dean Milligan said hours after the shooting Wednesday. “We do believe there is a specific reason this family was targeted, and we want to know why.”
The suspect shot three people at a family-owned fire extinguisher business Wednesday morning, then two more at a family home nearby before fleeing in a 2010 black Camaro that belonged to a victim or a member of their family, police said.
Three of the five victims died and the two survivors, including a 13-year-old boy, remained in critical condition, Milligan said.
The violence began just after 11 a.m. in this working class city about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles when someone from United States Fire Protection Services Inc. called 911 to report a shooting. A few minutes after police arrived, the injured 13-year-old called dispatchers from the house down the same street, Milligan said.
Police declined to release the identities of the victims pending the notification of family members, but a neighbor said the fire extinguisher business is owned by a group of brothers.
The house at 8518 and 8520 Cleta St. is a duplex facing foreclosure in a process that began last December, according to information from the foreclosure website WatchForeclosure. The property was scheduled to be auctioned Nov. 26 with an asking price of about $837,000.
Dean Wright, who owns the septic supply business next door to the business, said he didn’t hear gunfire, but the sound of someone yelling, “hey,” caught his attention. When he looked outside, police officers with guns drawn surrounded the building.
One of the owners he identified as Robert told him that the gunman shot his mother in the face, injuring her, and killed a secretary. At the family’s home, the shooter fatally shot the wife of another brother and injured the teenage boy, Wright said.
Wright wasn’t sure about the identity of the fifth victim, but police said a man was also killed at the business.
Wright said the two dead women each had three children.
“So now there are six children without mothers because of this idiot,” Wright said. “It makes me just want to throw up.”
The woman and teenager were originally at the business, but somehow got to the home in the Camaro before being shot. Police don’t yet know if they drove themselves or were kidnapped by the suspect. There was no sign of forced entry at either location and police believe the suspect spoke with the victims at both locations before the shooting began.
Authorities were initially concerned about the safety of a small boy, age 4 or 5, related to the victims, but he was found unharmed at school.
The suspect does not appear to be a former employee, friend or family member and the teenager did not recognize him, Milligan said.
Police have not been able to interview the woman survivor at length because of her injuries. Witnesses told other news media that they saw her bleeding from the head outside the business.
No witnesses to the shootings other than the victims have come forward and police were reviewing surveillance footage in hopes it would give them a glimpse of the shooter.
United States Fire Protection Services is in an industrial strip across from a large Coca-Cola Co. bottling plant. The family owned business sells professional firefighting gear and equipment such as hoses and extinguishers, according to its website.
In the first hours after the shooting, as news media gathered outside police tape, a man who said his wife worked at the business showed up at the crime scene and said he needed to know if she was safe.
An officer pointed him toward a command post and he pushed past cameras and paced frantically with a cellphone to his ear before leaving a few minutes later.
Blanca Parker, who works in another business on the street, said the owners were very friendly and very aware of security.
“They were hard working,” Parker said. “They worked seven days a week, 24-7.”
Wright, who has owned the House of Wright for 40 years, said the area is relatively safe, but he said the fire business had a robbery a few years ago.
“I’ve never seen nor heard of anything close to this,” he said. “I was driving to work this morning and thanking the good Lord for how much I love coming to work.”
He said he’d have something else to think about now.
Associated Press video journalist Raquel Maria Dillon in Downey and staff writers Robert Jablon, Greg Risling and Brian Melley contributed to this report from Los Angeles.