SEAL BEACH — A gunman opened fire in a hair salon Wednesday afternoon, killing eight people in what authorities are calling the deadliest rampage in modern Orange County history.
The shooting about 1:30 p.m. in the normally placid O.C. beach town near the Los Angeles County line eclipsed even the 1976 mass murder of seven people at Cal State Fullerton. It was immediately unclear whether any of the victims were from Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, but the shooting reverberated in the Newport-Mesa community.
"This could be one of our greatest tragedies," said Seal Beach police Sgt. Steve Bowles.
The death toll could grow. As of Wednesday evening, a ninth victim clung to life at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, authorities said.
Police have identified Huntington Beach resident Scott Dekraai as the lone suspect in the case.
The incident apparently happened quickly and without warning.
The suspected gunman opened fire inside the crowded Salon Meritage, littering the Pacific Coast Highway shop with bodies.
He fired indiscriminately at anyone and anything, witnesses said.
Police said he acted alone, although investigators said they were still scrambling to piece together what triggered such violence.
Eyewitnesses said that he was targeting his ex-wife and that the two were involved in a custody dispute.
The alleged shooter was apprehended and arrested only a few blocks from the salon.
The owner of the salon, Randy Fannin, was among the victims identified Wednesday who was killed.
A middle-aged Anaheim woman, who identified herself as Cindy, said she was sitting in the chair getting her hair done by Fannin when a man walked in and started shooting.
"We thought it was maybe firecrackers," she said. "But he just didn't stop. Anybody he saw he was shooting."
"It went boom, boom, boom," she added, speaking outside the taped-off crime scene. "I was afraid he was going to shoot everybody."
The afternoon shooting left the small town struggling to make sense of the carnage. A policeman spokesman said the shooting had put the city and its small police force on unfamiliar ground.
Witnesses and survivors alike were taken to a nearby apartment complex to settle their nerves. Others milled outside the police lines at the neighborhood shopping center, recounting what had happened.
Marissa Pei said she had been at the gym earlier in the day with a friend before bumping into her again outside the shopping center. She was sobbing.
"My friend is dead. My friend is dead," Pei said the woman told her. "I held her."
Pei said she also spoke to a man married to someone who was at the salon.
"My baby. She's half of me," Pei recalled him saying. "Please, God, don't let her be dead."
Dion Martini, a manicurist at a nearby salon, said it is "a shock to the whole community. All of us around here have worked together at one time or another."
Martini was busy with a client herself when she heard sirens and helicopters. She knew something was wrong.
But when she learned a shooting had unfolded in a salon much like hers, she struggled to contain her emotions.
"I've been having chills and had to hold back tears," she said. "I just can't imagine anybody being that sick to go in and do that to anybody."
Dr. James Blake, a dentist, was in his 5th Street office doing bridge work on a patient, as his hygienists cleaned other patients' teeth, when he heard what he later learned were gunshots coming from the parking lot outside.
"Then there was a pause and a few more gunshots," Blake said in an interview. "I didn't see the shooter."
Alarmed, Blake said his staff immediately locked the door to the office until police arrived.
The shooting "definitely was very unexpected" for Seal Beach, said Blake, who's had his office in the shopping center since 1992.
"When you have somebody who just loses it, you can be anywhere and not be safe," he said.
This story was reported by Daily Pilot staff writer Lauren Williams in Seal Beach and Los Angeles Times staff writers Tony Barboza, Nicole Santa Cruz and Louis Sahagun.