As teary-eyed friends and family of the victims looked on, the man accused in the most deadly shooting rampage in Orange County history pleaded not guilty Tuesday to killing eight Seal Beach hair salon customers and employees, including his former wife.
Scott Dekraai, 42, is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and a single count of attempted murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Dekraai, who was arrested about half a mile from Salon Meritage after the shooting, appeared alert and responsive as Orange County Superior Court Judge Erick L. Larsh spoke with him in court. He was dressed in mustard-yellow jail overalls and had grown out his beard.
According to authorities, Dekraai, wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with several guns, walked into the salon Oct. 12, shot his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, and then turned his gun on other salon clients and employees, including shop owner Randy Fanin. He then walked out of the salon and shot a man sitting in his Range Rover. There was a single survivor.
Dekraai had been involved in a bitter custody dispute with Fournier over their 8-year-old son.
Friends and family of the victims were silent during the hearing, where they took up several rows of courtroom seats. Afterward, several people pledged to attend every court session.
Some wept, and others, such as Paul Wilson, the husband of shooting victim Christy Wilson, wore picture buttons in memory of lost family members.
He called Dekraai a "cowardly shell of a man," adding that "his soul has been in hell for a very, very long time."
Wilson told reporters that the news of the day was not Dekraai's plea but the "innocent lives that Scott took from us."
"It's a real tragedy and we have to deal with that every day going forward," he said.
Others spoke about the aftermath of the shooting and the difficulty of the upcoming holiday season.
"It's going to be weird throughout the holidays without my sister," said Craig Burke, Fournier's brother. "It's going to be tough."
Michelle Fournier's family also took time to say that her 8-year-old son is doing fine. He is in the care of his 24-year-old sister, Chelsea Huff, who lives in Los Alamitos.
A preliminary hearing for Dekraai is scheduled April 24.