Stinging from an acrimonious divorce, a man plotting revenge against his former wife dressed up like Santa Claus, went to his former in-laws` Christmas Eve party and slaughtered at least eight people before killing himself hours later, according to Seattle Times.
In addition to the eight people whose bodies were found in the ashes of the house, none of whom was identified, at least one other person was thought to be missing, and perhaps as many as three.
Among the total of dead or missing were the couple who owned the home, James and Alicia Ortega, and their daughter Sylvia, the estranged wife of the gunman, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, police said.
Pardo, 45, had no criminal record and no history of violence, according to police, but he was angry after last week`s settlement of his divorce after a marriage that lasted barely a year. It was unclear if they had children.
"It was not an amicable divorce," police Lt. Pat Buchanan said.
Pardo chose to exact his revenge at the annual Christmas party his former in-laws held at the two-story home on a cul-de-sac in a quiet Covina neighborhood 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
"Christmases were that special time of the year, it meant so much to them," Rosa Ordaz, a family friend of the victims, told KCBS-TV.
Coroners declined to identify any of the dead and said some remains would need to be identified using dental records.
In past years, a neighbor dressed as Santa Claus and entertained guests. But the neighbor had moved away and there was no Santa, until Pardo arrived about 11:30 p.m., police said.
Girl, 8, answered door
The massacre began when an 8-year-old girl answered Pardo`s knock at the door. Pardo, carrying what appeared to be a large present, pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face and began shooting indiscriminately as about 25 partygoers tried to flee, police said. As Pardo unleashed a barrage of gunfire in the living room, people smashed through windows, hid behind furniture and bounded upstairs.
A 16-year-old girl was shot in the back, and a 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when she escaped by jumping from a second-story window. Those two, and the 8-year-old, remained hospitalized Christmas Day. All were expected to recover.
The gift-wrapped box Pardo was carrying contained a pressurized homemade device he used to spray a liquid that quickly sent the house up in flames. Police said Pardo had worked recently in the aerospace industry.
A Seattle man, Joshua Chavez, was visiting his mother`s house behind the Ortegas for Christmas when he heard a loud explosion.
"I heard a loud bang, and then I saw black smoke and this large flame," said Chavez, 28. He ran out to the backyard and heard three girls trying to climb over his wall.
"There`s some guy shooting in there," he said one of the girls told him. "About 20 seconds after that the house was totally on fire," he continued. "One girl said that a guy dressed as Santa started shooting. And another said that he threw a bomb or poured gasoline all over the place. They were hysterical."
David Salgado, a neighbor, said he saw the 8-year-old victim being escorted to an ambulance by four SWAT members as flames up to 40 feet high consumed the house. "It was really ugly," Salgado said.
Another neighbor, Jan Gregory, said she saw a teenage boy flee the home, screaming, " `They shot my family.` "
About 80 firefighters battled flames that soared 40 to 50 feet high for an hour and a half before extinguishing the fire, according to Capt. Mike Brown.
When the fire was extinguished early Thursday, officers found three charred bodies in the living-room area.
"They were met with a scene that was just indescribable," police Chief Kim Raney said. Investigators found five more bodies amid the ashes later in the day.
Authorities were unable to immediately determine whether the victims were killed by the flames or the gunfire.
After the shootings, Pardo removed the Santa suit and drove off, witnesses told police. He went to his brother`s home about 25 miles away in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. No one was home, so Pardo let himself in, police said.
Police were called to the home Thursday morning, and officers found Pardo dead of a single bullet in the head. Two handguns were found at the scene, and two more were discovered in the wreckage of his former in-laws` house.
A car that Pardo apparently parked near his brother`s home exploded Thursday evening and more ammunition was found in it, Los Angeles police Sgt. Francisco Wheeling said. She had no details on what set off the explosion. No one was hurt.
Investigators began searching Pardo`s home in the suburban Los Angeles community of Montrose.
Decorations on fence
Candy-cane decorations were affixed to the fence at the home, and a holiday wreath hung on the front door. An SUV and a military-style Hummer were parked in the driveway. Detectives sat in their car awaiting a judge to sign a search warrant for the house. "Maybe there`s some [sign of] planning, maybe letters or anything that will give us more clues about the state of his mind," Detective Antonio Zavala said.
Pardo had lived at the home alone, Zavala said. Court records show that his wife divorced him in September. Neighbors said Pardo lived in the house with his ex-wife and her three children until earlier this year. They were often seen walking their dog.
By many accounts, Pardo was an unassuming, religious man who served regularly as an usher at evening Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose.
"Bruce?" said an incredulous Jan Detanna, the head usher at the church, when told of the attack. "I`m just — this is shocking. He was the nicest guy you could imagine. Always a pleasure to talk to, always a big smile."
Pardo, Detanna said, had volunteered to usher at the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve that began as the rampage was unfolding in Covina.
Bong Garcia, Pardo`s next-door neighbor, said he last saw Pardo between 9 and 10 p.m. Wednesday and exchanged brief greetings. Pardo told him he was on his way to a Christmas party, Garcia said.
Back in Covina, Frank Castillo, 46, stood at the yellow police tape trying to obtain information about relatives he said had been at the party.
Castillo said a relative had called to tell him that his former sister-in-law, Sylvia Castillo, had died in the attack. His nephew Sal Castillo, and a niece, Selina Castillo, also were in the house, he said.
"I want to make sure my nephew and niece are OK," he said, choking back tears.