Los Angeles police said late Sunday afternoon they were searching for two suspects they believe are responsible for a series of seemingly random early-morning shootings that left three people dead and four wounded in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
Witnesses said the gunmen were driving a tan, gold, or brown SUV, perhaps a Suburban or Tahoe, said Sgt. Frank Preciado, an LAPD spokesman.
Preciado described the situation as "a major public threat," but said the department had deployed "a lot of resources" to find the men.
The department's Robbery and Homicide division is leading the investigation into the shootings, which began just before 6 a.m. Sunday when a family of five was shot in the 1400 block of Celis Street as they drove to the nearby Santa Rosa Catholic Church. A 22-year-old woman was killed and her parents were in critical condition, Preciado said. Her two siblings also had minor injuries, possibly from glass or metal fragments.
The second person was killed about 6:35 a.m., as he was hunting for recyclables at the Sylmar Recreation Center. He was gunned down as he walked toward the SUV in the parking lot, police said. "They never got out of the vehicle," Preciado said of the shooters.
The third fatal shooting occurred in the 12900 block of Filmore Street, where a woman was shot in her car. Residents called police after hearing the gunfire. Family and friends identified the victim as Gloria Esperanza Tobar, 59.
The identities of the other victims were not released as authorities worked to notify next of kin.
At the scene of the first shooting on Celis Street, blood spattered the sidewalk in front of an orange stucco house. In the afternoon, after the crime scene tape had come down and detectives had departed, residents washed the blood away with water.
The owner of the house, who did not want to be identified, said the family that had been shot had lived next door to him until a few years ago.
"They were a beautiful Catholic family, all the time in church," he said.
At the church, officials deferred to an archdiocese spokeswoman, who would not identify the family but said those who knew them were grieving.
"I can tell you it's a very difficult time for the parish community. They were very active and well-loved in the church," said the spokeswoman, Monica Valencia.
At the scene of the third shooting on Filmore Street, family and friends of Tobar, 59, took shelter in the shade of a church. Her daughter, Lucia Montano, said her mother had been waiting for a friend when she was shot. She and her friend planned to attend services at another nearby Catholic church, as they had each Sunday for several years. After the service, Tobar usually visited the neighborhood's elderly and disabled to help them take communion, Montano said.
"That was her life -- church and her family," Montano said of Tobar, who is survived by her husband, three children and seven grandchildren.
Police say they are looking for leads in the case, and ask anyone with information to please come forward. They would like to hear from shopkeepers in the areas of the shootings who might have video surveillance as well as anyone else in the area with security cameras or car cameras.
So far, they have not been able to determine the license plate number of the suspects' car.