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Gunman armed with assault rifle was on cocaine binge during deadly Azusa rampage, police say

During a furious gun battle in the quiet San Gabriel Valley neighborhood, police shot him dead, and his body was found in a home’s entryway.  

Investigators worked through the night to piece together a portrait of a “gun fanatic” who armed himself with an assault rifle and unleashed a cocaine-fueled rampage Tuesday in an Azusa neighborhood, killing one man and critically wounding two women before being killed by police.

Residents in the quiet San Gabriel Valley neighborhood waited for hours to return to their homes and reunite with the families as investigators swarmed the area “to understand what happened,” Azusa police said.

Although the motive for the shooting remained under investigation, authorities said the gunman had been on a cocaine binge when he launched his attack.

On Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said investigators were still working to identify the 45-year-old gunman and notify his family.

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They had identified the deceased victim as Francis Varney, 77, of Azusa. The condition of the two wounded women, 59 and 65, remained unchanged. One woman was shot in the face, the other victim was struck by gunfire on her body, authorities said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said investigators were still trying to learn more about the assailant, whose cocaine binged prompted his wife and two children to leave their family’s home Monday evening.

The man was employed at a public works division in an unspecified Orange County city and was previously in the U.S. military, Corina said.

He collected guns and had at least four weapons, including handguns, a shotgun and a rifle, officials said. He had lived in the Azusa home for about five months.

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Parents evacuate their children after Slauson Middle School was placed on lockdown during a shooting at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Fourth Street in Azusa.
Parents evacuate their children after Slauson Middle School was placed on lockdown during a shooting at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Fourth Street in Azusa.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )
He is kind of a gun fanatic. He came out in the street and, according to people, he started shooting randomly at people.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina

“He is kind of a gun fanatic,” Corina said. “He came out in the street and, according to people, he started shooting randomly at people.”

Armed himself with handguns, a rifle and shotgun, the man walked outside of his home and began shooting at cars.

Clad in black combat gear, he shot at a woman driving a van, causing her to crash into cars, authorities said.

The gunman fatally shot Varney when he walked out of his home to see the commotion, Corina said. He then shot at another woman making her way down the street.

As police officers from Azusa and Irwindale pulled into the neighborhood, they were met with hail of gunfire from an assault rifle with “a rapid-fire capability,” acting Azusa Police Chief Steve Hunt said.

A gun battle erupted as officers attempted to tend to the wounded victims. Authorities were forced to secure the neighborhood and shut down nearby polling places — sending voters scrambling to find alternate locations as police confronted the assailant

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The shooter fired at least 20 rounds at police.

Officers took cover and returned shots at the assailant, who retreated into a home in the 500 block of Fourth Street. No officers were injured.

“I heard this ‘boom boom’ like a rifle or shotgun, and then I heard ‘pop pop’ back, then boom boom again,” said neighbor Hector Serrano, 21. “I came outside and [police] were throwing gas at the house.”

An hours-long standoff ended Tuesday evening after police shot and killed the gunman. 

Sheriff’s officials used a robot with a camera to confirm the gunman was dead. His body was found in a home’s entryway.

Inside the man’s home, investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and family members told authorities he would occasionally binge on cocaine, Corina said.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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