Detectives are searching for at least three suspects in the shooting, said LAPD Capt. Peter Whittingham. Police took into custody two "persons of interest" — a man and a woman, who was among those injured — but neither has been formally arrested.
"We have street names for these suspects but we don't know who the killers are yet," he said. "The people shot either don't know the killers or aren't telling us what they do know."
As for the motive, Whittingham said it may have been more than a simple argument that erupted at the eatery, but detectives could not say for sure. A gun was recovered from the scene.
"It may be a narcotics-related dispute … a dispute between parties over business transactions," Whittingham said.
Detectives believe the shooters killed their primary target with a hail of bullets.
"We believe there was return fire," Whittingham said.
There were at least 50 people inside the restaurant in the 2900 block of Rimpau Boulevard at the time of the incident, Sgt. Frank Preciado said.
Three men left the restaurant, returned with firearms and began shooting, police said. Others at the restaurant also opened fire, and some diners were caught in the crossfire, Preciado said.
The shooting continued in the driveway of the restaurant, which is located in a house on a residential block, police said.
"When we got there, there were three people dead and people running everywhere," Preciado said. "We had multiple people with gunshot wounds."
Numerous officers from across Los Angeles were sent to the scene, which Preciado called "really devastating."
"It's a bloody scene with shell casings everywhere," he said.
Officers spent much of Saturday canvassing the neighborhood looking for witnesses.
Some of the wounded were taken by ambulance to hospitals, while others drove themselves, authorities said.
"The injured are scattered across Los Angeles hospitals." Preciado said.
Deputy Chief Bill Scott, head of the LAPD's South bureau, said his officers were still trying to piece together what happened.
"This is real tragic. We have a lot of sorting out to do. When the shooting started, everyone scattered," he said. "Our detectives are getting a better picture of what unfolded."
The owner of the Jamaican eatery, who identified himself only as Dilly, told The Times on Saturday that he runs a catering business out of the house, not a restaurant. He said that he was hosting a birthday celebration when the shooting occurred.
"I do catering, that's all I do," he said. "Except on Saturdays when people come over and I cook food for them."
The man, 63, said he has operated his business out of the house for more than a decade. He said another shooting occurred at the location in 2011.
"The guy that died in that shooting was my friend," he said.
A neighbor, who lives on nearby Westhaven Street and did not want to be identified, said she was putting her dog to bed at about midnight when she heard what at first sounded "like fireworks."
There was a momentary pause, she said, then: "It was just pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. It didn't stop. It just kept going.... Really loud."
"It was a series [of gunshots] first, like really fast, then a pause, almost like someone reloaded," she said. "It was specific, as if someone was pointing at people."
She estimated she heard about 20 gunshots in total. She ran to the window and watched people run by her house, screaming. Some held beer bottles, she said. Many jumped in their cars and sped off, she said.
Within minutes, police helicopters appeared overhead and fire trucks and police cars were parked on the street, she said.
Paul Elen, 64, who was visiting his brother in the neighborhood, said he "heard about 15, 20 shots."
"First it was two shots," he said. "Then they started firing again."
He said he saw people running down the street. "I seen somebody fall so I said, 'It's time to go in the house,'" he said. "I heard a lot of screaming."
Earlier, Elen said, he and his brother had gone over to the house where the party was to ask that a car be moved from his brother's driveway. He said there were more than 100 people in the house and yard and that a DJ was playing music.
Shortly after he left the party, Elen said, he heard the gunshots.
"My brother thought it was fireworks," he said. "I said, "No, ain't no smoke in there. Them ain't fireworks, them gunshots."
There were two shots and then a break, he said, "like someone shot back." Elen walked to the end of the driveway and saw people running down the street.
"I never witnessed nothing like that over here before," Elen said. "Last night was new for everybody."
The neighbor who did not wish to be identified said that at least 50 people fled throughout the night and that things didn't calm down until 2 or 3 a.m. Many more streets were blocked off overnight, she added, and at least 40 police cars were in the area at one point.
Blair Hamilton, who lives one block from the scene of the shooting on Westhaven Street, said he came out of his house and saw people "running every which way."
"Total chaos," said Hamilton, 58.
He saw an older woman sitting on the curb with a bloodied face. Two other women sat next to her, at least one whom also appeared to be injured, he said.
There was also a girl lying across the curb, Hamilton said. She was moving and being attended to by another girl, he said.
Meanwhile, police were escorting people out of the house, he said.
Neighborhood residents say they have grown accustomed to gatherings and parties on the block. The closest neighbors said they can often smell grilled chicken and hear music.
Some of the parties are larger and louder than others, but in general, they said they did not find the previous gatherings disruptive; neighbors described some of those who attended the parties as very nice.
Alvin Fortier has lived on Rimpau Boulevard for 10 years and said he knows the people at the house where the shooting occurred.
"They're friendly with me," he said.
He said they sell food out of the house and occasionally host parties, adding that this isn't the first time there has been a shooting at the house. A few months ago, eight or nine shots were fired at the same place, but nobody was hit, he said.
"It's like that place is targeted," Fortier said.
One man, who declined to give his name, said the home serves as a gathering spot for many in the Jamaican community. If someone wants to have a party and doesn't have a space, they could go to the homeowner and ask to hold their event there, he said.
"And he would accommodate you. That's the type of person he is," he said. "He's well-respected in our community, our Jamaican circles."
The man said he often comes and gets food at the house — plates he described as "next to home-cooked meals that we're used to back home."
"Real authentic Jamaican food," he said.
The gathering last night was a birthday party, the man said, adding that he attended. The mood ahead of the shooting was "real cool, real quiet, nice music. Everybody just chilling," he said.
But then, he said, came "chaos, chaos, chaos."
"The explosions," he said. "Those weren't no average handguns.… And it was multiple guns involved. It wasn't one.... It was more than one."
The man said he didn't know who started the shooting, but emphasized that "the owner of the house is not a bad person. It's the people that came to his home and did this that's making the bad reflection. It's sad."
One neighbor, who identified herself only as Alice, said she has lived at her home for eight years and that as long as she has lived there, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, there are cars parked all along her street, even along stretches of the curb painted red. The street starts filling up in the early afternoon and empties out about 1 a.m., she said.
"We can barely get in our neighborhood," she said.
Martha Velasquez, 54, was visiting her daughter when she woke to the rapid sound of gunfire. She said she peeked through the bedroom window that faces the backyard and saw three men on the roof of a neighbor's home.
The men then made their way down her daughter's backyard and ran off through the driveway, Velasquez said.
On Saturday morning, dried drops of blood led from the driveway and down Hartcourt Avenue, about a block from where the shooting occurred.
"Our thoughts are with the families mourning or praying at bedsides today," Garcetti said. "We must take action against easy access to firearms and the thoughtless, indiscriminate, murderous use of them."
According to The Times' Crime L.A. database, the West Adams district has seen 109 violent crimes over the last six months, but no homicides until now.
Through July 16, overall crime rose 6.3% across the city compared with the same period last year, LAPD records show. Property crime was up 3.8%, and violent offenses climbed by 15.9%.
Violent crime was led by a 19.2% jump in aggravated assaults and a 16.8% increase in robberies.
The West Adams district in Southwest L.A. has seen a wave of gentrification in recent years that has quickened with construction of the Expo Line through the area.
5:50 p.m.: This story has been updated with new information from police.
2:55 p.m.: This story has been updated with new information from the owner of the house where the shooting occurred and more information from eyewitnesses.
1:55 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional reaction from a person who attended the party, the owner of the catering business and neighbors. The story has also undergone additional editing.
12:20 p.m.: This story has been updated with interview with the eatery's owner and with new eyewitness accounts and a statement from the mayor.
10:55 a.m.: This story has been updated with new information from police and neighbors.
9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with more details about the neighborhood.
8:35 a.m.: This article was updated with witness accounts and details about the restaurant.
8:10 a.m. This article was updated with details about the investigation from LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Scott.
7:30 a.m.: This article was updated with details about the shooting from LAPD Sgt. Frank Preciado.
7:11 a.m.: This article was updated with background about the West Adams district and recent crime statistics.
6:35 a.m.: This article was updated with a revised casualty count and more details about the shooting location.
5:20 a.m.: This article was updated with a revised death toll of three.