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Coroner IDs 3 of 4 San Fernando Valley shooting rampage victims

Canoga Park shooting scene
Police investigate the scene of a shooting in Canoga Park that wounded three people, two fatally, and set off an hours-long manhunt Thursday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County coroner on Friday identified three of the four people killed when a gunman embarked on a shooting rampage across the San Fernando Valley the day before as police searched for a motive.

The dead included the father and brother of suspected gunman Gerry Dean Zaragoza and a woman whom family members say he briefly dated.

The fourth person killed in the shooting, a man in his 50s, has not been identified.

Police say 26-year-old Zaragoza’s violent tear through the Valley began shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday, when he attacked his family inside their Canoga Park apartment, and ended roughly 12 hours later, after he shot and killed a stranger on a bus in Van Nuys.

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Carlos I. Zaragoza, 56, and Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, 33, were killed when police say the younger Zaragoza opened fire inside the family’s home in the 21900 block of Roscoe Boulevard. The slain father and son were identified only by their ages immediately after the shooting, which initial reports put at 50 and 20, respectively.

Gerry Zaragoza’s mother also was wounded in the initial attack. She is expected to survive her injuries, police said.

LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes said the Robbery Homicide Division is still unclear on what set off Gerry Zaragoza’s alleged rampage apart from obvious anger issues toward his family. Hayes said detectives in the last 24 hours have served numerous search warrants to secure video surveillance related to the deadly attacks as they are seeking murders charges against him.

The elder Zaragoza, who lived at the apartment with his wife and youngest son, was a carpet cleaning technician at America Carpet Cleaning and Restoration in Northridge, according to public records.

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His boss, Michael Ramia, said Carlos Zaragoza had confided in him that his son was battling drug problems. Ramia said the older man often tried to get his son to come to work with him, but he seemed to have no motivation.

“He was a father just trying to protect his son,” Ramia said. “He did it to his last day. He wouldn’t give up on his son.”

Gerry Zaragoza’s older brother, Carlos Pierre Zaragoza, studied at UCLA, according to his Facebook profile. He previously worked as a union organizer for a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which represents public and private sector education workers. He left before his death, according to a union spokeswoman.

A GoFundMe account created for the Zaragoza family said the 33-year-old “was the embodiment of warmth and love to all those around him.” Photos of him shared online show him playing the guitar. Nearly $16,000 had been donated to the fundraiser as of Friday.

Police say Gerry Zaragoza fled the family’s apartment after the predawn shooting. About 45 minutes later, authorities say Zaragoza opened fire outside a Shell gas station in the 6700 block of Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood, killing Azucena Lepe, 45, and wounding a man.

Police say Zaragoza and Lepe — known by her family as Susie — were acquaintances, but authorities have not determined the specifics of their relationship. However, the woman’s sister told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that Lepe and Zaragoza dated for a short time. When Lepe broke off the relationship, the family says Zaragoza became obsessed with her, according to the station.

Lepe was a mother of four, according to a GoFundMe page started by her sister to cover funeral expenses. Nearly $5,000 had been raised as of Friday.

“I don’t want to believe she’s gone, but she leaves behind four children who will need every bit of help they can get,” Lepe’s sister wrote.

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Hours after the second shooting, about 7:45 a.m. Thursday, 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 throughout the Valley in an effort to find Zaragoza. Eleven hours after the initial shootings, authorities say Zaragoza shot and killed a man in his 50s inside an Orange Line bus stopped at Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys. Authorities have not yet identified that man.

The first three people killed were specifically targeted, officials say, but police do not think Zaragoza knew the man on the bus.

“He didn’t even talk to his last victim,” Hayes said. “He’s getting off the bus and he turns and shoots the person. It doesn’t look like there was any interaction between them.”

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. They used a Taser to subdue him outside a glass shop, a law enforcement source said.

Authorities say Zaragoza was still armed with the gun used in the shootings when he was taken into custody. He suffered minor injuries during the arrest and was taken away in handcuffs on a stretcher. He is being held without bail in Los Angeles County jail. He has not been charged in connection with any of the attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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