Shrieks Shattered Peace of Quiet Neighborhood on Night of Rampage : ‘Nightmare’: The intruder’s kin say he was a mild-tempered, gentle man devoted to his family and did not drink or use drugs. But they also say he had been given a substance at a party.
The peace of James E. Bruner’s quiet Reseda neighborhood was suddenly shattered sometime after 10 p.m. Friday by the piercing shrieks of a hysterical neighbor.
Drawn to his back yard to investigate, Bruner, 38, was confronted with a specter that he said seemed straight out of a horror film: A bloodied, naked man jumped over a fence into his yard and attacked him, then crashed through a plate-glass door and pursued his wife through the house, he said.
“It was everyone’s worst nightmare.” Bruner said Sunday.
“He was a maniac, " said Bruner, who used a shotgun to kill the intruder, Gene Brian Holloway, 23, in the living room of his home in the 6800 block of Andasol Avenue.
Holloway had crashed through windows at three other homes before reaching the Bruners’, and police believe that at the time of the rampage, Holloway was under the influence of the hallucinogen PCP, which gives its users temporary bursts of fearsome strength.
But Holloway’s widow and mother-in-law painted a different picture of the former soldier who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after a devastating helicopter accident. They said he was a mild-tempered, gentle man who was devoted to his family and did not drink or use drugs.
“He was a good man, an honorable man and a good father,” said April Holloway, his Canoga Park High School sweetheart, whom he married four years ago. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Amber.
April Holloway and her mother, Mary Metcalf, said Holloway had been given some type of drug at a party Friday night. They refused to provide details about the party or the circumstances surrounding the ingestion of the drug.
Police investigators were not available Sunday to comment on the drug use or party. An autopsy will be conducted to determine whether there were drugs in Holloway’s body.
Metcalf said that when Holloway broke into the homes he was looking for her house on Aldea Avenue, a few blocks away, where he lived with his wife and daughter. Metcalf said her son-in-law left the Army less than a year ago after four years stationed in Germany. During that time he fell out of a helicopter and injured his back.
Things did not go well for Holloway immediately after his discharge, she said. He had problems finding a job and had to fight the Veterans Administration bureaucracy to receive his education and medical benefits.
But his life had recently begun to improve, she said. He had received government funds to attend summer school and was planning to register for classes at Pierce College next week.
“He was a very sweet person, a real trouper,” Metcalf said. “That is what makes this so tragic. He had been through so many hard times.” Although Metcalf said that she sympathizes with Bruner’s fears, she also said it was necessary to kill her son-in-law.
Police will present the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which will determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Bruner.
Bruner said Sunday that he shot Holloway because he had no other way to subdue him, and he feared the intruder was going to kill his wife or his daughter, who was on the telephone in her room talking with friends.
“A normal person doesn’t crash through a plate-glass window. He had superhuman strength--like a demon person,” said Bruner, who said he had never fired the shotgun before using it to shoot Holloway.
In the 15 minutes before Holloway’s death, he dove through a window at one home and used his hand and head to shatter windows at two others along the 6800 block of Lasaine Avenue, causing panic among residents, including the family of a pregnant woman who climbed over two fences to escape, police said.
“Please write a story about the dangers of drugs, showing people what can happen,” said a 20-year resident who fled from her house when Holloway, who was still fully clothed, shattered a glass pane in her front door, opened the door and walked past her into the house.
While she called police from a neighbor’s house, Holloway went into her bedroom, dove from her bed out the window onto the front lawn. He went to the house next door, where he crashed his head through a glass window on the side of the house, into the bathroom, where a young man was taking a shower. The man said Holloway was asking whether “Amber” lived there.
The occupants of both homes said Holloway, who lived about a mile away from the neighborhood, babbled about trying to find people he knew. The residents said Holloway seemed lost, disoriented and impervious to pain and they thought he might have been trying to find his way home.
Holloway went across the street to the home of Robin Steinberg, 29, her husband, and their 3-year-old son. Steinberg, who is seven months pregnant, said the family hid in a back hall as Holloway crashed his arms through a window in the front of their house.
Fearing that he would enter the house, the family fled out the back, over a fence into a neighbor’s yard, and then over a six-foot wall onto the street. “Climbing walls and running was not something I had planned on,” Steinberg said Sunday.
Meanwhile, as the Steinbergs fled, Holloway shed his clothes in their back yard, leaped over the fence into the Bruners’ yard, which is to the rear of the Steinbergs’ house.
Bruner and his wife, Elizabeth, were reluctant to talk about the details of the incident. But during a brief interview, Bruner said Sunday that Holloway attacked him, and wrestled him to the ground. He believed Holloway had already killed Steinberg, he said, because her shrieking had stopped abruptly and because Holloway was covered with blood.
The homeowner broke free, fled into the house, locked the doors and armed himself with a shotgun. But Holloway put his hands over his head and smashed through a sliding glass door, sending glass flying in all directions. He began chasing Elizabeth Bruner through the house.
At that point, Bruner said, he felt he had no choice but to shoot the intruder.
“He knows he did the right thing,” Elizabeth Bruner said. “If you were there, you would know. Everyone feared for our lives.”