A 38-year-old man with a violent past went on a 16-hour rampage in Ventura County, killing three people -- including a mother who was pistol-whipped in front of her children -- and injuring five others before taking his own life Tuesday morning inside a Wal-Mart store, police said.
The deadly spree began Monday afternoon in an upscale neighborhood of Thousand Oaks when Toby Whelchel ran up the driveway of attorney Steve Mazin's home and opened fire, killing Mazin, 52, wounding the attorney's best friend and killing the friend's wife.
A motive for the attack is uncertain, but Mazin and Whelchel had a bitter history. Mazin was granted a temporary restraining order against Whelchel three years ago after telling a judge he was "dangerous and violent." In court papers, Mazin had described Whelchel as the boyfriend of his estranged wife, Joanne -- a statement she denied last year.
But what may have begun as private vengeance on Monday spiraled into highly public violence Tuesday as Whelchel eluded capture overnight and then attacked several strangers.
By the end of the rampage, Whelchel had fired at at least five people, including a sheriff's deputy; beaten five others; stolen two trucks; and had broken into a home in a gated community. There, he beat Carole Nordella, 48, who later died of her wounds, and then attacked her two youngest children, Jamie, 14, and Jeffrey, 10, as they tried to hide in a bathroom.
" 'Satan came into our home today. Let's pray he doesn't visit anyone else,' " Nordella's husband, Jeff, told a neighbor, Leslie Baker.
Whelchel fled, and less than half an hour later, shortly before 8:30 a.m., drove a pickup truck stolen from outside the Nordella home to the Wal-Mart in Simi Valley, with police in pursuit. As customers ran out of the store, Whelchel shot himself.
Records show that Whelchel, whose last formal address was in Indiana, had a history of violent charges in three states, including making terrorist threats, assaulting a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. An Air Force captain, Whelchel was forced out of the military after a court-martial in 1999 on charges of failing to report for duty on time, records show. Police said he had worked in the Thousand Oaks area for a few years.
Mazin filed for the restraining order in October 2002 -- the same day he filed for divorce. Mazin told a Ventura County Superior Court judge that "in October of 2000, Mr. Whelchel assaulted me in my house, leaving a permanent scar on my body." Mazin said in the declaration that Whelchel and his estranged wife were living in the family home. A judge granted the restraining order late that year saying he found "clear and convincing evidence that there was a credible threat of violence committed by Mr. Whelchel against Mr. Mazin."
Court records show the two men first crossed paths after Whelchel met Joanne Mazin, 53, in 2000 at a festival at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. In a legal declaration on file in the Simi Valley courthouse, Whelchel said he had developed a festival game as a business venture, and became partners with Joanne Mazin to promote the amusement locally.
Joanne Mazin was not at her home in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday, and neighbors said she was with her son.
Whelchel also said in the declaration, a response to the request for the restraining order, that Steve Mazin had represented him in proceedings related to his court-martial and two other matters, but at some point he said he came to believe Mazin was not doing a good job.
Authorities and witnesses said Whelchel appeared at Mazin's home Monday about 4 p.m. and attacked without warning. Mazin was standing in his driveway as two longtime friends, Jan Heyne, 50, and her husband, Tim Heyne, a 51-year-old manager of rock bands, returned a boat that they had borrowed for a weekend trip to Big Bear.
Tim Heyne "was in the driveway, and some guy came running up the driveway and Tim thought it was a prank," said Heyne's brother-in-law, Mike Baumann. "It just didn't register; he thought this guy was going to give Steve a big bear hug."
Instead, the man "pulled something out from under his arm and he shot Steve point-blank, and then turned it on Tim and shot him in the chest. Tim said it spun him all the way around," Baumann said. "He heard two more shots and managed to get back to his vehicle and call 911. Then he started to go back and saw Jan face down."
Heyne described the shooting to Baumann at Los Robles Regional Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, where he was listed in serious but stable condition. Heyne works at Union Entertainment Group, which manages rock bands such as Nickleback, Cinderella, Oleander and Default.
"This bad marriage ended the best marriage I've ever seen in my entire life," Baumann said. "There was absolutely no reason for them to die," he added, referring to the Heynes. "They were just literally in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Five to 10 minutes after shooting Mazin and the Heynes, Whelchel carjacked a white Ford F-150 from the nearby parking lot of a supermarket, police said. Although neighbors heard police helicopters overhead, and law enforcement personnel searched the area, Whelchel was not found that night. Authorities don't know where he was until shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday when, according to a police timeline, someone spotted the stolen Ford in the 900 block of Bright Star Circle in Thousand Oaks.
From there, Whelchel, apparently searching for a car to use, made his way on foot down a steep hillside and into Camelot Estates, a gated community of spacious homes on large lots.
In her two-story neoclassical home -- on a sprawling lot where she and her husband had had a professional-level baseball field constructed, Carole Nordella was home with her two younger children who were home schooled. Her older daughter, Kristin, 15, had gone to her high school. Her husband, Jeff, a doctor, had gone to his walk-in clinic at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia.
At 8:12 a.m., police got a 911 call reporting a break-in. Deputy Scott Ramirez, a 10-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, was sent to investigate.
Carole Nordella also called her husband to tell him a man was in the house, and he rushed home. He later told neighbors that she said Whelchel had let himself in through an unlocked door.
Whelchel first attacked Carole Nordella, according to Baker, the neighbor. Seeing their mother hurt, the two frightened children tried to lock themselves in a bathroom. Baker said the attacker got to them and then "beat them into unconsciousness." Both children were hospitalized with head trauma at Los Robles hospital. The 14-year-old was listed in serious condition and the 10-year-old in fair condition.
A pool maintenance man working at the house heard the attacks and tried to intervene, using a long cleaning tool to try to fend off Whelchel. He was also injured and was taken to Simi Valley Adventist Hospital.
Whelchel fled in the pool man's Nissan pickup, police said. On his way down the private drive, Whelchel passed the deputy responding to the 911 call.
Ramirez told colleagues later that Whelchel waved at him, the sort of "friendly hello" you might give a law enforcement officer, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks recounted Tuesday.
As Ramirez continued toward the Nordella home, he heard noises behind him. Jeff Nordella had arrived home and was trying to use his car to block Whelchel from leaving. Whelchel fired at Jeff Nordella but missed. Then he shot at Ramirez, hitting him once or twice in the upper chest and shoulder. The deputy was taken to Los Robles hospital and is expected to survive.
Jeff Nordella then tried to chase Whelchel, giving up after a moment to check on his family's welfare.
Neighbors said the Nordellas had moved to the quiet area of the Santa Rosa Valley several years ago for the sense of safety it offered. It's an area of estate homes on 10-acre lots, set off by jagged cliffs to the south. The Nordella home is an ivory two-story with a large barn and ballpark, where the family often invited children to play. "They were the perfect All-American family," said Baker, who lives next door. She found the rooms of the Nordella house stained with blood when she went to see what she could do to help.
Whelchel drove east from the neighborhood and was spotted a few miles away by a sheriff's deputy in a helicopter.
Two patrol units picked up the chase. Within minutes, Whelchel arrived at the Wal-Mart on Cochran Street and entered the store carrying a gun. Some people fled and police evacuated others. Police officers and SWAT team members, concerned the gunman might take a hostage, formed a perimeter around the store.
Ron Stevenson, 42, of Simi Valley was shopping when he heard "two loud booms, sounded like a cannon, but it was gunshots."
"Curiosity got the best of me, so I walked to the sporting goods section thinking there was an accident."
Before he got there, two store employees ran by yelling: "Get out of the store! There's a guy with a gun!"
The first of the shots appears to have hit the store's ammunition counter. Whelchel then aimed the second shot at himself.
When a team of officers entered the building they found the body. The gunman shot himself "once in the head, and he was dead," Brooks said at a news conference later in the morning.
"We're saddened by the loss of life," Brooks said, "and thankful it wasn't greater than it was."
Times staff writers Gregory W. Griggs, Tonya Alanez, Amanda Covarrubias, Andrew Blankstein, Melinda Tonks Brown, Monte Morin and Megan Garvey contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Three people are shot Monday outside a home in Thousand Oaks. Two die and one is critically wounded.
2) The gunman may have spent the night hiding in Wildwood Regional Park.
3) Tuesday morning, a woman and her children are attacked in their home near the park. The mother later dies from her wounds. A Ventura County sheriff's deputy is shot by the fleeing assailant.
4) Pursued by police, the fugitive drives to a Wal-Mart store in Simi Valley, where he kills himself.
Source: Times reporting
Los Angeles Times
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
A man with a history of violence killed the estranged husband of his business partner Monday, beginning a series of attacks that left two others dead and five injured.
Toby Whelchel, 38
Self-employed, he provided games to circuses and festivals. It was at one such festival that he met Joanne Mazin.
GUNMAN'S BUSINESS PARTNER
Joanne Mazin, 53
Estranged wife of first shooting victim, Steve Mazin.
Steve Mazin, 52
Shot to death outside his home in Thousand Oaks. Obtained restraining order against Whelchel in 2002 when he filed for divorce, naming Whelchel as his estranged wife's boyfriend. She denied any relationship.
Jan and Tim Heyne
Longtime friends of Steve Mazin, Jan, 50, is killed and her husband, Tim, 51, is hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds.
Apparently looking for another vehicle, Whelchel breaks into a home in Camelot Estates and pistol-whips Carole Nordella, 48, and her two youngest children. Carole dies later. Her husband, Jeff, 50, is fired upon when he returns home, but escapes harm.
A Ventura County sheriff's deputy who is searching the area while investigating Monday's killing is shot as the assailant flees from the Nordella home.
Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department and Ventura County records
Los Angeles Times