San Fernando Valley shooting rampage leaves 4 dead; suspect is in custody
A 26-year-old who embarked on a shooting rampage that left four dead — beginning with his own family and ending with a stranger on a bus — was arrested Thursday afternoon after an hours-long manhunt that cast a shadow of fear across the sweltering San Fernando Valley, police said.
Still armed with the gun authorities allege he used in the crime, Gerry Dean Zaragoza was taken into custody about 2:30 p.m. when two law enforcement officers with the LAPD and FBI joint fugitive task force spotted him walking on Canoga Avenue near Gault Street.
The officers yelled for him to get his hands up. He refused, and they used a Taser to subdue him outside a glass shop, a law enforcement source said.
Zaragoza suffered minor injuries during the arrest and was taken away in handcuffs on a stretcher. He was armed with a similar-caliber weapon as the one used in the shootings, police said.
The shootings and manhunt, which lasted roughly 12 hours, happened amid a stifling heat wave in which temperatures reached nearly 100 degrees in the area. The killings prompted a San Fernando Valley-wide tactical alert, doubling the patrol effort in the region.
“This is a very dark day in the San Fernando Valley. We have lost four Angelenos,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who added this part of Los Angeles hadn’t seen such a spree of violence in years.
Police say Zaragoza’s rampage began about 12 hours earlier — shortly before 2 a.m. — when he allegedly gunned down his family inside an apartment in the 21900 block of Roscoe Boulevard in Canoga Park.
His 50-year-old father and 20-year-old brother were fatally shot. His mother was shot and taken to the hospital in stable condition, police said.
Police say Zaragoza fled the apartment after the shooting. About 45 minutes later, authorities allege, Zaragoza opened fire outside a Shell gas station in the 6700 block of Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood.
When police arrived, they found a man and a woman suffering from gunshot wounds. The woman, who has not been identified, died at a hospital. The man remains in critical condition.
Police say Zaragoza was an acquaintance of the woman who was shot, but authorities have not determined the specifics of their relationship, said LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Rodriguez.
Hours after the second shooting, about 7:45 a.m., police allege Zaragoza returned to Canoga Park and tried to rob a man outside a Bank of America at Sherman Way and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
Police had deployed tactical officers through the Valley to find Zaragoza when authorities allege he shot and killed another man inside an Orange Line bus stopped at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys about 1 p.m.
LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher, who oversees detectives, said they have not identified a motive in the shootings.
“Getting the suspect into custody was the priority,” he said, adding that detectives will now focus on building a case to submit to prosecutors.
The first three people killed were specifically targeted, officials say, but police do not believe Zaragoza knew the man shot on the bus.
“He didn’t even talk to his last victim,” said LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes, who oversees the robbery-homicide division. “He’s getting off the bus and he turns and shoots the person. It doesn’t look like there was any interaction between them.”
Detectives reviewed a video from the bus to identify the gunman and determine what unfolded inside, Hayes said.
The department had blasted Zaragoza’s photo across social media, hoping someone would spot him and call law enforcement.
On Thursday afternoon, patrol officers blocked off a large swath near Victory and Woodley while detectives and forensics experts combed through the bus stop for evidence.
Miles away in North Hollywood, detectives hovered around what appeared to be a stream of blood outside the Shell gas station. At least four bullet holes had pierced the side of the building.
Earlier in the day, an officer in tactical gear with a large gun slung across his chest stood in the shade outside the apartment complex in case Zaragoza returned as detectives combed through the family’s unit.
Amanda Williams, who lives in an apartment building adjacent to the complex, told reporters at the scene that she woke up to the sound of helicopters overhead and saw police with guns drawn swarming the building.
“I saw officers with rifles and handguns just going crazy,” she said. “That went on for hours.”
Robert Hussain was watching the news in the office of his Canoga Park tire shop, the TV warning of a killer on the loose, when he noticed a man walking past his shop on Canoga Avenue. He was carrying a handgun in his right hand, and his was the same face on the TV.
“You want to know the truth? I had my gun ready,” Hussain said. “I don’t look for trouble, but I’m going to protect my business, my guys, my customers.”
He said he watched as Zaragoza walked down Canoga Ave with what he described as a strange grimace on his face. A silver pickup pulled up alongside him and plainclothes policemen jumped out with their guns drawn. Eventually, Zaragoza was handcuffed, strapped into a chair and wheeled into an ambulance.
Hussain had heard, earlier that day, that the suspect had shot someone at a bank four blocks west of his tire shop, along with shooting other people.
“Look, I’m 43 years old. I’m a Valley boy; I’ve lived through the North Hollywood shooting in 1997,” Hussain said. “But does this make me think differently about where we are? I think it does. I feel afraid for our community because we’re lacking the resources to care for people who are mentally sick. This kid was sick.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.