Days after his wife filed to move their divorce forward, a Garden Grove man with a long rap sheet is suspected of having gone on what authorities describe as one of Orange County’s worst binges of violence, robbing and stabbing his way south from his own apartment building, leaving four dead bodies and eight crime scenes in his wake.
First, police say, 33-year-old Zachary Castaneda ransacked his next-door neighbor’s apartment. Then he allegedly terrorized the owner of a nearby bakery, walking off with her cash register when he couldn’t get the machine open. After that, the man police describe as a known gang member doubled back to his first crime scene and apparently stabbed his neighbor and another man to death.
Over two and a half hours Wednesday, the attacks Castaneda is accused of became more brazen. He terrorized a swath of Santa Ana and Garden Grove, nearly sliced off a man’s nose off while gassing up his silver Mercedes and strained the resources of the smaller city’s police department, authorities said. Many of the attacks, police said, were caught on surveillance video.
The rampage closely followed recent mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, El Paso, Texas, and Gilroy, Calif., which targeted women, men and children enjoying a night out, shopping for school and noshing their way through a famous food festival.
The “needless violence” of the past 11 days prompted Garden Grove officials to lower their flags to half-staff on Thursday, said Garden Grove police Lt. Carl Whitney. “This violence has to stop.”
Whitney said he has been a police officer for 30 years, and Castaneda’s alleged rampage “is the first time I’ve ever seen a suspect kill four people and stab others. It’s pure evil.”
Castaneda has an extensive criminal history in Orange County, which includes convictions for gun-related offenses, resisting a police officer, corporal injury, drug possession and theft. He also has several open cases in Orange County Superior Court on charges of vandalism related to gang activity, possession of a dagger and drug possession. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, according to court records.
Castaneda’s wife alleged domestic violence in a petition for a restraining order she filed against him last year. She could not be reached for comment. The couple have three children, according to court documents.
Garden Grove police Chief Tom DaRe said changes in California law — namely AB 109 — aimed to reduce the number of inmates in the state prison system made it easy for Castaneda allegedly to carry out the crimes. That law, DaRe said, handcuffs law enforcement’s efforts to keep Californians safe.
“This person should have been in prison and not in our community,” DaRe said. He is “a violent individual who should never have been considered for early release. … Our community becomes vulnerable when these criminals are released back into society and able to commit further acts of violence.”
Authorities said they do not know what caused the rampage.
Four men were killed and a 44-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman were wounded in the attacks. Authorities released the names of two of the men who were killed: Pascual Rioja Lorenzo, 39, of Garden Grove, and Robert Parker, 58, of Orange. And family members identified one of the individuals killed as 62-year-old Helmuth Hauprich.
Hauprich and Castaneda lived in adjacent apartments at the Casa De Portola complex on Jentges Avenue in Garden Grove. That’s where Castaneda’s alleged crimes began and later turned deadly, Whitney said.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, Hauprich and his longtime roommate arrived home to find their apartment had been ransacked. A passport, a Social Security card, a work authorization card (known as a green card), a sword collection and a large dining room table had been stolen, according to Hauprich’s son, Erwin.
Hauprich called police, but before officers could arrive, they were dispatched to a report of an armed robbery at M Bakery on Chapman Avenue.
Bakery owner Dona Beltran was outside, charging her phone in her parked car, when a Mercedes pulled up a little after 4 p.m. and a man, later identified as Castaneda, got out and walked into the store.
Thinking he was a customer, she said in an interview, she followed him inside.
As she entered, she saw the man had walked behind the counter and was rummaging around, attempting to open the cash registers.
“What are you doing? What are you doing?” she screamed.
The man pulled up his shirt and motioned to his waistline at what Beltran assumed was a weapon. She ran into a dental office next door and yelled: “Call the police. He’s trying to rob my bakery.”
The dental office employees locked the door. Beltran saw the man lug away her cash registers, plop them in his car and drive away.
“It was a miracle” she wasn’t hurt, she said. “This was a second chance for me.”
Castaneda returned to Casa De Portola at about 5 p.m. That’s when he got into an argument with Hauprich and his roommate, Whitney said, and stabbed both of them multiple times.
When officers arrived, they found one man on the balcony and another man lying inside. One died at the scene and the other was taken to a trauma center, where he later died, Whitney said.
The last time Erwin Hauprich talked with his father the world was still in one piece. Helmuth Hauprich’s apartment had yet to be ransacked. Erwin said his father had lived in the apartment for more than 20 years, was well-liked and was “always making jokes.”
Forty minutes later, Castaneda, wearing a black hoodie, walked into Cash N More on Chapman Avenue and robbed a customer, police and witnesses said.
Yesenia Torres, 34, of Santa Ana was the lone employee on duty at the time. She didn’t think much of the man at first as he paced back and forth inside the store.
“I figured he was just in a hurry,” Torres told The Times.
Torres said she had just completed processing a $200 loan for a customer, who took the cash and was walking toward the door when a man walked up and told the woman in Spanish: “This is a robbery. The insurance will pay you back.”
He had one hand in his pocket and grabbed the cash with the other. Torres said she didn’t see a weapon.
“This can’t be happening to me,” the customer said in Spanish and stood in shock.
Torres said she averted her gaze to avoid making eye contact with the man, but once he exited the store, she said she was able to spot his vehicle and wrote down his license plate number. She pressed the panic button and called law enforcement, she said.
Initially, she thought it had just been a simple robbery. Hours later, she heard about the killings.
“I was in shock. What if he would have taken out a weapon on our customer? You go through all the scenarios. It’s scary. He seemed like such a normal person,” she said. “I do feel lucky.”
Authorities allege Castaneda tried to rob the Best One Insurance Agency on Harbor Boulevard in Garden Grove at 6:06 p.m. He attacked a 54-year-old employee, confronting her with what was described as a machete-style knife, Whitney said.
“This female employee was very brave; this guy was armed with knives,” Whitney said. “She fought as best as she could against this armed suspect and sustained multiple stab wounds.”
The woman was taken to a hospital and was expected to survive.
His next stop was a Chevron gas station, where he allegedly attacked a man pumping gas, stabbing him in the back and nearly cutting off the man’s nose. Castaneda returned to his vehicle and continued filling up his gas tank before driving off, Whitney said.
Chevron employee Taylor Lorenzen told NBC the suspect came inside the store “kind of angry” and threw a $50 bill on the counter. The man stabbed while pumping gas was “bleeding everywhere,” Lorenzen told the station.
At a Subway sandwich shop in Santa Ana, authorities allege, the man fatally stabbed Lorenzo before heading to the 7-Eleven across the street. That’s where he attacked a security guard, Parker , from behind, stabbing and killing him and cutting the gun off his duty belt.
Undercover detectives from Garden Grove were combing the area, searching for Castaneda when they spotted the silver Mercedes he was driving parked in front of the 7-Eleven. They confronted Castaneda outside the store and took him into custody at gunpoint, Whitney said.
DaRe said the officers “saved the lives of many other communities members. If the suspect continued his rampage he could have injured or killed many other innocent people.”
The violence rocked Garden Grove, a city of about 174,000 in central Orange County, which has seen six homicides, at most, annually in recent years.
“This is one of those things you see one time in a career,” Whitney said. “We want to make sure we have a solid case and we can put this guy in prison for the rest of his life.”