A 34-year-old cable television technician, distraught over a custody battle with his estranged wife, shot his 9-year-old son to death, wounded his two younger boys, then fatally shot himself in a south Orange County business park Monday.
Dewey Edward Zipprian and his 9-year-old son, Dewey Edward Jr., were declared dead at the scene in Rancho Santa Margarita, a Sheriff's Department spokesman said.
The two surviving sons, identified as Bret Adam, 3, and Larry Mitchell, 5, were taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, Lt. Richard J. Olson said.
Larry Zipprian was listed in critical condition Monday evening after surgery for a gunshot wound to the head, a hospital nursing supervisor said. Bret Zipprian, who was shot in the abdomen, was listed in serious condition in the hospital's intensive-care unit.
Their mother was with the boys at the hospital Monday afternoon, according to hospital spokeswoman Jan Walker.
Olson said the murder-suicide apparently was triggered by a custody dispute between Zipprian and his wife, identified in court records as Mary Lynn Zipprian, 31, of Tustin. She could not be reached for comment late Monday. The estranged couple's 14-year-old daughter, Teresa M. Zipprian, apparently was not with her father and brothers at the time of the shooting.
In a divorce petition filed July 27 in Orange County Superior Court, Mary Zipprian cited "irreconcilable differences," court records showed. A hearing on the divorce case held Friday before temporary Judge Mark Millard was referred to court mediation services; a mediation meeting was scheduled for Thursday.
Efforts to reach Jan Shaw, who heads the mediation agency, were unsuccessful.
In the divorce suit and a March 20 civil harassment lawsuit also filed in Superior Court, Mary Zipprian alleged that her husband had a five-year history of physically and emotionally abusing her. The couple had also been in and out of court-ordered mediation counseling for the last four months, court records showed.
Mary Zipprian was given temporary custody of the children. But neighbors on the Rancho Santa Margarita street where the couple had lived until recently said that she eventually turned the two oldest boys over to her husband.
In court papers, Mary Zipprian described a long history of physical abuse and family fights, including a stay in a shelter for battered women in San Antonio in March, 1986. After her family sent her money, she and the children left the shelter and flew to California.
Dewey Zipprian followed her to California and returned to Texas with the two older boys, threatening that if she did not also return, she would "never see the boys again," she said in court papers.
The two apparently reconciled, and the family eventually rented a house in Rancho Santa Margarita in April, 1986.
By January, 1987, Zipprian had begun hitting her and the children again, Mary Zipprian said in court documents.
"I'm afraid he's seriously going to harm me," she wrote. "When he gets angry, he becomes like a crazy man, and there is no reasoning with him. He goes beyond normal punishment with our children, always using the belt and giving them bruises."
She wrote that she often missed work because of the frequent beatings.
On April 17, Superior Court Commissioner Frank Fasel ordered Zipprian not to contact his wife except concerning visits to their children.
Two Stayed With Father
But since at least July 27, according to court records filed by Mary Zipprian, Dewey Jr. and Larry had been staying with their father in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Monday morning's shootings occurred in a building owned by Rancho Santa Margarita Cablevision in the Rancho Santa Margarita Business Park, a new development east of Mission Viejo, sheriff's spokesman Olson said.
Zipprian, a technician with the company since April, 1986, apparently was in the building used to store electronic equipment when another employee arrived at 8:30 a.m., officials said.
The employee found the door barricaded from the inside and tried to open it, Olson said. A man's voice yelled from inside, "Go away, don't come in!" and then several shots followed, Olson said.
The employee, whose name was not released, contacted his supervisor. When the two were unable to open the door, they called sheriff's deputies shortly after 9 a.m., Olson said.
Times staff writer Mariann Hansen contributed to this article.