Their divorce was finalized months ago, but the couple were still working out final details on how to divide their property and child support for their two younger children.
By Wednesday evening, something had gone terribly wrong.
Authorities believe Javier Casarez, armed with a weapon billed as the world’s most powerful revolver, forced his ex-wife to go with him to a trucking company in East Bakersfield before carrying out a bloody rampage over the next half hour that would stun the community and leave six people, including the gunman and his ex-wife, dead.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s shocking,” Bakersfield Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan told The Times. “I would be very sympathetic with those involved in any place in our state, our country. But it was very shocking to hear that something like this had happened in our home city.”
The incident is the third-deadliest shooting in the nation this year behind the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack in Florida, which left 17 people dead, and the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, which killed 10.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told reporters that the episode appeared to be part of a national trend: “This is the new normal if you look across the country at these types of shootings.”
The shootings began about 5:20 p.m. Wednesday, when Casarez, 54, opened fire on his ex-wife, Petra Maribel Bolaños De Casarez, 45, and Manuel Contreras, 50, inside T&T Trucking on Manwell Boulevard, killing them both.
A trucker at a neighboring business heard the popping sounds. He figured a tire had blown out. But when he went outside, he saw a gunman chasing another man — identified by authorities as Antonio Valadez, 50 — and firing a .50-caliber Smith & Wesson 500 handgun.
“He was shooting rounds at the man and chasing him in a circle,” Manny Meza said. “It’s not something I thought I’d ever see. This is not normal.”
Authorities said Casarez got in his car, followed Valadez to the nearby Bear Mountain Sports shop and fatally shot him.
Meza said other employees told him that the gunman worked at T&T Trucking and suspected that his ex-wife was having an affair with one of his co-workers.
About 15 minutes after the first shootings, authorities received a call that Casarez had shown up at a home in the 9400 block of Breckenridge Road and opened fire, killing Laura Garcia, 31, and her father, Eliseo Cazares, 57. Authorities believe Garcia may have been killed when she intervened to save her father. Police have not said what the gunman’s connection was to the family.
Minutes later, Casarez carjacked a woman who was driving with a child. Casarez told the woman he wasn’t a “bad person” and let her and the child out of the car before he drove to Edison Highway, where he was spotted by a deputy, officials said.
Casarez then pulled into the parking lot of an auto repair business that authorities said is owned by one of his friends. When the deputy approached, Casarez got out of the car and shot himself in the chest.
Body camera footage released by Kern County sheriff’s officials on Thursday showed the moments before Casarez fired the gun for the last time. A deputy, who also has a firearm drawn, yells, “Put the gun down!” four times before a final shot sounds and Casarez falls to the ground.
Investigators are working to reconstruct the violent sequence of events and determine a motive for the attacks, the first of which was characterized as a domestic violence tragedy.
“The suspect’s dead and some of our key witnesses and victims are dead,” said sheriff’s Lt. Mark King. “So it’s going to take us much longer to try to put this together and try to get a reasonable explanation.”
Kern County Superior Court records show that divorce proceedings between Casarez and De Casarez began in December and were finalized in April. The pair had three children — one adult and two minors — and De Casarez had recently returned to court for a hearing to determine child support and division of property.
Youngblood said authorities have not determined whether the court hearing was a catalyst for the shooting.
“Sometimes these domestic violence cases morph into something really bad and we want to find out how the other players fit into that domestic violence issue,” Youngblood said. “If you look at the time frame of when this occurred, from scene to scene to scene, it appears to me to be very calculated.”
Officials said the older sibling is caring for the others.
A study published by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, said there were 296 murder-suicides nationwide that resulted in 663 deaths in the first six months of 2017.