Mark R. Hilbun's violence touched family, friends and strangers.
Slain first was his mother. Next came her beloved pooch, Golden.
Later Thursday morning and several miles down the coast, authorities said, Hilbun would open fire in the Dana Point post office, killing best friend Charlie Barbagallo, with whom he'd gone to concerts and socialized.
He fired a bullet through the door of the postmaster but missed, then he pointed his gun at friend Peter Gates, whose head was grazed by a bullet.
It was unclear if the men were hapless or hunted targets.
Poor John Kersey was a stranger. A few minutes after the post office bloodshed, the retired parole agent was cleaning out trash cans in the garage of his Dana Point home when a man aiming a long-barreled gun at him charged up his driveway and barked, "This is a holdup!" After a scuffle, Kersey was wounded in the arm by the gunman, who drove off in his truck.
"I am probably the happiest guy in Orange County right now because I could be dead," Kersey said from his hospital bed, his nails still caked with dried blood. "We just moved to peaceful Orange County last July."
Police searching for Hilbun broke into a Corona del Mar beach apartment and instead found his silver-haired mother stabbed to death in her bedroom, her dog fatally stabbed in the kitchen.
She had lived on Marigold Avenue for a dozen years, in a duplex she had bought with her then-husband. He left a year later. For a while, neighbors said, her son lived with her, but for several years now it was just Frances Hilbun and her blond cocker spaniel.
"She was always out gardening out front and she'd have her dog out there with her, and we'd sit out and talk," said next-door neighbor Trent Maple, 24, a salesman for Gallo wines.
As residents of the upscale neighborhood gathered outside her home for the latest on the murder, dog groomer Ed Pelot walked up the street from his shop to find out who the victim was. He knew it was Frances when someone identified Goldie.
"The dog was her whole life. Everything revolved around it," Pelot said sadly. "Every two weeks she came in like clockwork, she treated him like gold."
Her last appointment was a week ago Wednesday, "and the weird thing is that her son came in with her," Pelot said. "She was short two bucks, and he just gave it to her."
He added, "She was a great lady."
Most nights, another neighbor said, she watched television alone. For about a year, said Geoffrey Benesch, he and his wife, Shel, and their 4-year-old daughter have been tenants in the front apartment of Frances Hilbun's duplex. "She was a wonderful landlord," he said, a very quiet woman who was kind to his daughter, inviting her in for fruit.
"She was very understanding like when the rent was late," he added. Some neighbors thought she might have worked part-time at a private postal center, but others were not sure.
Attractive and friendly, she was described by some neighbors as defensive of her son when a few of them had cause to complain about what they called his weird behavior.
Once, when neighbor Rosalie Kane called police because Hilbun had threatened her son, Frances Hilbun came over and yelled at her: "How could you do that? How could you say that about my son? He's a nice boy and he wouldn't do anything like that," Kane recalled.
After that, Kane told her children to stay away from Mark Hilbun.
Santa Ana attorney Donald Glenn Rubright said he was hired by Frances Hilbun to represent her son after he was arrested last summer on charges of drunk driving and resisting arrest. "She was a very concerned parent," Rubright said. "What doesn't jibe to me, if he flips out, is that he would do something to his mother."
They called him Charlie, and he was a quiet, likable guy. Barbagallo, 42, was shot only once, but right between the eyes, said Rowland A. (Art) Bradley of San Clemente, 58, who was placing mail in postal boxes at the time.
"I think he must have died right away, or very quickly. There was blood all over the place," Bradley said.
Barbagallo was about 5 feet, 7 inches tall with dark hair and a ponytail. He had lived in a modest, single-story San Clemente home on Avenida Portal for at least 10 years, much of the time with a short, red-haired woman who was either his wife or girlfriend and who works at a hospital, neighbors said. The couple were friendly but "basically kept to themselves," said John Corralez, who lives next door.
"We always said hello to each other, but not much more," said Corralez, 56. "They would go to work, walk their dog every once in a while. They were just the type of neighbors you want, quiet and nice."
Barbagallo had no children and was thought to be an only child, said his fellow postal workers. His parents were supposed to be flying in tonight from Philadelphia.
According to postal workers, Barbagallo had spoken to Hilbun recently, although they did not know the nature of the conversation.
Another co-worker, who asked not to be identified, said Barbagallo was the gunman's "best friend."
In the chaotic aftermath of the shootings, he said, Barbagallo's housemate arrived at the post office, and could be heard screaming.
As he puttered in his garage about 10 a.m. Thursday, John Kersey met up with the man police suspect was Mark Hilbun.
Kersey, who retired seven years ago, ending a 33-year career with the California Youth Authority as a supervising parole agent, said he looked up and saw the man six or eight paces away, walking toward him with a gun.
"The fellow said, 'This is a holdup.' And, put a gun on me. . . . When I had my face on the floor he hit me over the head with the butt of a gun, I think. Then I got up and started scuffling with him."
Kersey was concerned that the stranger might go into his house to look for things to steal and possibly threaten his wife, Jean, who was watching.
"I was scared to death," she said. "I ran out of the door screaming."
Her husband was trying to flee out a side door of the garage and was trying to push the door against the stranger. But the gunman pushed his way through, and they scuffled in a courtyard.
Kersey said, "I was trying to hold his gun hand. I think he was trying to shoot me."
He said that although he heard only one shot, his wife said she heard five or six. The shots weren't loud, more like pops. It was a revolver with a very long barrel, perhaps with a silencer, Kersey said
Because the garage was dark he didn't get a very good look at the suspect. He was wounded in the hand during the struggle for the gun. Then the man climbed into his blue truck with a kayak on it and drove away.
Ironically, Kersey and his wife had been talking about the shooting in Dearborn, Mich., earlier in the day. Two in one day just goes to show the need for gun control, he said.
"I think American society has to do something about guns."
Little is known about Pete Gates or the last known victim, a woman shot at a Newport Beach intersection in midafternoon.
Gates, 44, of Vista was treated and released from Samaritan Medical Center-San Clemente. He declined to discuss the attack when reached later at home.
Times staff writers Leslie Berkman and Len Hall contributed to this story.