O.C. shootings: Killings occurred during morning routines
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On most days, Mel Edwards would show up to work at Rubicon Gear, a small family business that manufactures high-precision gears and shafts, before sunrise. He was easygoing, worked hard and was generous with his employees.
“You wouldn’t know he was one of the owners,” said Frank Salazar, the comptroller for the Santa Ana company that is owned by Edwards’ family.
Edwards brought his employees into the family fold, Salazar said. With 60 employees and one location, they were tight-knit.
Tuesday morning, Edwards, 69, was on his way to work when a man approached his BMW with a gun drawn. The gunman ordered Edwards out of the BMW and directed him to the curb, authorities said. Edwards cooperated, but the gunman fired three times, killing him.
Authorities say Edwards was one of three people killed Tuesday by 20-year-old Ali Syed during a brief morning rampage that ended when Syed fatally shot himself. Over the course of an hour, authorities say, Syed killed a woman at his Ladera Ranch home and embarked on a string of shootings that stretched through the heart of Orange County, targeting random people.
Authorities said they were stunned by what they described as the ‘senseless violence,’ which spanned about 25 miles of normally placid suburbia. Syed had no criminal record and left few clues as to any motive, police said.
‘I just killed someone,’ he told one man during the rampage, according to police. ‘This is my last day.’
Police discovered the first victim early Tuesday at a stucco condo in an upscale Ladera Ranch community. Syed, who was unemployed and enrolled in a class at Saddleback College, lived there with his parents.
Neighbor Jason Glass said he heard three to five loud bangs in the early morning. He said he then heard doors slam, and a car sped away from the house. Deputies arrived at the neighborhood about 4:45 a.m., after Syed’s parents called 911.
Authorities said they found the body of a woman in her 20s who’d been shot multiple times. She was not related to Syed, authorities said. As of Tuesday evening, it remained unclear who she was and why she was at his home.
Meanwhile, Syed had taken off in the family’s black GMC Yukon, armed with at least one shotgun, authorities said. Possibly in his haste to flee, police said, he damaged the vehicle.
He exited the 5 Freeway at Red Hill Avenue in Tustin about 5 a.m. and pulled into a Denny’s parking lot, officials said. There, a man was sitting in an older-model blue Cadillac, waiting for his son. They’d planned to carpool to work.
Police said the gunman pointed his weapon at the man and yelled ‘Get out.’ Instead the man sped away and Syed fired, shattering the Cadillac’s rear window and striking the man in the back of the head. The man kept going -- he was later treated at a hospital -- and the gunman dashed to a nearby Mobil station, authorities said, where he spotted a man pumping gas.
‘When they made eye contact, Syed started running toward the victim,’ said Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan. ‘He said to him, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day.’'
The man obliged.
Syed took the man’s Dodge pickup and headed north on the 5, authorities said. After merging onto the southbound 55 Freeway, he stopped on the shoulder, got out of the truck and opened fire on cars speeding by, hitting at least three. One driver was injured by flying glass, police said.
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said the gunman may have realized that the pickup was low on fuel and was trying to steal a second vehicle.
Damita Cunningham said she was driving on the 55 Freeway about 5:20 a.m. when traffic suddenly halted. She said she put her Honda Accord in reverse, thinking she could go around the accident, but a large vehicle backed into her and drove away.
Cunningham said she followed the vehicle, which pulled off the freeway. She walked over to the driver, whom she described as ‘sitting there with a blank stare.’ She said he told her that a man had pointed a gun at his window. He had been trying to flee and “was all shaken up,” Cunningham said.
In the meantime, officials said, the gunman had returned to the stolen pickup and exited the freeway at Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana. He hit another vehicle, slammed into a divider and abandoned the truck, they said.
Then he approached Edwards’ BMW, they said.
Cunningham said she came across the c0rime scene before returning to the freeway. She saw a man with a bloodied chest and brown boots. ‘I’ll never forget those brown boots,’ she said.
The gunman was nowhere in sight.
Officials said he had sped away in the BMW to a Micro Center computer store in Tustin. Soon thereafter, workers at a nearby Fairfield Inn construction site heard gunfire.
Tom Van Schindel, a project superintendent, said a plumbing supervisor spotted one of his co-workers being chased through an overflow parking lot and drove over to help him.
The co-worker, Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton, had just arrived for his 6 a.m. shift when, authorities said, Syed shot and killed him. The supervisor who had gone to his aid was shot in the arm, police said.
The gunman escaped in one of the construction site’s white work trucks. Sometime before 6 a.m., California Highway Patrol officers caught up with him on the northbound 55 Freeway. He exited on Katella Avenue. Near East Katella and North Wanda Road, Jordan said, Syed got out of the vehicle ‘while it was still in motion.’
He raised a shotgun to his head and fired, killing himself, officials said.
-- Rick Rojas, Anh Do, Kate Mather, Ashley Powers, Mike Anton, Nicole Santa Cruz and Hailey Branson-Potts