Cocaine, guns and fury: 1 dead, 2 critically injured in Azusa shooting; gunman found dead

A cocaine-fueled “gun fanatic” armed himself with an assault rifle and launched a rampage Tuesday in his Azusa neighborhood, killing one man and critically wounding two women before he attempted to ambush responding police officers.

During a furious gun battle in the quiet San Gabriel Valley neighborhood, police shot him dead, and his body was found in a home’s entryway.

The gunfire forced authorities to secure the neighborhood and shut down nearby polling places  sending voters scrambling to find alternate locations as police confronted the assailant.

The motive for the shooting remained under investigation, but Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said the 45-year-old assailant was on a cocaine binge that had prompted his wife and two children to leave the family’s home Monday evening.

“He is kind of a gun fanatic,” Corina said. “He came out in the street and, according to people, he started shooting randomly at people.”

About 2 p.m. Tuesday, the man — who has not been publicly identified — armed himself with handguns, a rifle and shotgun. Clad in black combat gear, he headed for the street.

He opened fire at a woman driving a van, causing her to crash into cars. 

When a 77-year-old neighbor left his home to see the commotion, the assailant fatally shot him, Corina said.

A woman making her way down the street was also wounded in the rampage.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Ron Singleton said that the women, ages 65 and 59, were airlifted to a hospital. Corina said the women remained in critical condition and have not spoken with detectives.  

Responding officers were tending to the victims when they were met with a hail of gunfire by a gunman armed with an assault rifle with “a rapid-fire capability,” acting Azusa Police Chief Steve Hunt said.

“He was hiding when officers came up,” Corina said, adding that police had seen the wounded victims in the neighborhood. “When they went attend to those people, he opened up fire.”

The shooter fired at least 20 rounds at police.

Officers took cover and returned shots at the assailant, who retreated into a home in the 500 block of Fourth Street. No officers were injured.

“I heard this ‘boom boom’ like a rifle or shotgun, and then I heard ‘pop pop’ back, then boom boom again," said neighbor Hector Serrano, 21.

"I came outside and [police] were throwing gas at the house."

Another neighbor saw the same man as he was walking away from the Memorial Park parking lot.

“I just ran inside,” Fabiola Morena, 47, said after the man stopped to reload his weapon and glanced her way. “I secured the door, grabbed my granddaughter and ran into the bathroom, and we locked ourselves there.”

Inside the home, she heard police sirens and more gunshots.

“I don’t know if he shot at the police or they shot at him, but it was several gunshots,” said Morena, who spoke to The Times by phone while locked in the room. “I was afraid a bullet would come through the walls of the house.”

Liberata Collela said she saw a body lying near the front door of the house next door. 

Sheriff’s officials used a robot with a camera to confirm the gunman was dead. 

Inside his home, investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and family members told authorities he would occasionally binge on cocaine, Corina said.

The man was employed at a public works division in an unidentified Orange County city and was previously in the U.S. military, Corina said.

He collected guns and had at least four weapons, including handguns, a shotgun and a rifle. He had lived in the Azusa home for about five months.

Officials said that an earlier report by authorities that the shooter was a woman was the result of “misinformation” as the events were unfolding.

The shooting unsettled Azusa — a bedroom community of 50,000 that marks the entrance to the San Gabriel Canyon — on the eve of a contentious election.

The Azusa Unified School District issued a lockdown for Slauson Middle and Mountain View Elementary schools about 2:15 p.m., officials said. A nearby daycare center and preschool were also locked down.

As helicopters droned above, residents attempted to navigate around sheriff’s cruisers stationed in multiple intersections, cutting off traffic. Some approached officers outside the city’s police headquarters, searching for a place to vote. Residents were told they could cast a provisional ballot anywhere in the county.

Rosa Valdovinos, 62, said she had raced to Memorial Park, where some children who attend nearby schools huddled on a bleacher, and was relieved to learn her grandson had already been picked up by a relative. Still, she was rattled by the violence.

“We never have this happen before here in Azusa. Especially with the election? It's weird,” Valdovinos said. “There are so many crazy people, acting emotionally.”

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

Times staff writers Ruben Vives, Corina Knoll and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

11:20 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with details on what led to the shooting.

8:10 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details on the circumstances of the shooting and minor editing.

6:25 p.m.: This article was updated with new details that the gunman was found dead.

6:19 p.m.: This article was updated with another witness describing the standoff.

5:55 p.m.: This article was updated with details about a body being removed from a home.

5:30 p.m.: This article was updated with Los Angeles County Fire Department confirmed the deceased was a man in his 70s.

4:52 p.m.: This article was updated with new details by the Azusa Police Chief.

4:42 p.m.: This article was updated with a second witness account.

4:13 p.m.: The article was updated with sourcing from law enforcement.

4:06 p.m.: The article was updated with a witness account.

3:41 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

3:35 p.m.: This article was updated with Los Angeles County Fire Department confirming one person was dead on arrival.

3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s captain confirming four people were shot and a suspect was heavily armed.

3:10 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the location of the shooting and police urging residents to shelter in place.

This article was originally published at 3 p.m.

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