A warehouse store manager was shot point-blank in the head before dozens of terrified shoppers who ducked for cover during the attempted robbery just before noon Thursday.
Scott H. Wilson, 30, a customer service manager at Home Base in Santa Ana, had just finished making change for a $50 bill when someone lunged toward him, shouted and fired a shot at his right temple, police said.
Wilson was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange and was in critical condition late Thursday.
Police were searching for the gunman, whom one witness described as a young man with two nose rings and four silver studs in his right cheek.
The shooting occurred at 11:35 a.m. as about two dozen customers were shopping at a liquidation sale at the store, which is set to close soon to make way for a new warehouse next door.
Sandra McGowan, 48, a regular store patron who lives nearby in unincorporated Orange County, said she had been watching a man in his early 20s for about half an hour before the shooting.
“I’m looking at this guy, and he has no cart, nothing in his hands, and I’m wondering, ‘Is he casing the joint?’ ” said McGowan, who owns a landscaping business.
McGowan had borrowed a dime from Wilson to buy a soft drink and was drinking the beverage near Wilson, who was at a cash register eating a sandwich and potato chips.
A few moments later, McGowan said, she heard a bang and thought someone had dropped something in the store, but quickly concluded it had been a gunshot.
McGowan said the gunman looked her in the eye, dropped the smoking gun to his side and ran out the door without the money.
“I was so close to him I could have touched him,” she said. “People were screaming. They didn’t know what had happened, it all happened so fast.”
Santa Ana Police Sgt. Bob Clark said the gunman attacked Wilson as he was returning from the store safe.
According to Clark, the gunman yelled something incomprehensible before shooting Wilson in the head.
“It is our belief that the suspect was trying to rob the victim or the store of the money,” Clark said. “There is no indication that the suspect knew the victim.”
Police describe the gunman as white and between 5 feet, 5 inches and 5 feet, 9 inches tall. He was wearing light clothing and a black baseball cap, police said.
A Home Base spokeswoman said Wilson was hired three years ago and had been transferred to the Santa Ana store three months ago and promoted to customer service manager.
“The team members around here have really strong feelings for Scott and have unanimously chosen to come to work tomorrow for a blood drive” for him, said Marie Kroesen, public relations manager for Home Base.
Home Base has brought in a counseling team to offer help to the employees and customers who were in the store at the time of the shooting. The American Red Cross will conduct the blood drive today at the store at 17th and Bristol streets between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Times staff writer Mark Platte contributed to this story.