SEAL BEACH, Orange County (CBS / AP) — A gunman opened fire Wednesday in a busy hair salon, killing eight people and critically wounding another while leaving bodies scattered throughout the business in a normally sedate Southern California beach community.
The gunman got into a truck and drove away from Salon Meritage after opening fire. A suspect was stopped by officers about a half-mile away and surrendered without incident while saying he had multiple weapons with him, police Sgt. Steve Bowles said.
His name and those of the victims were not immediately released by authorities.
Friends of the salon owner said the gunman was the ex-husband of a stylist who worked there. Bowles would only say, “There may be something to the motive as to a relationship with somebody in the salon, that is our assumption.” He declined to elaborate later.
Kimberly Criswell, who owns a salon just two doors down from the scene of the shootings, said she and her customers and employees heard gunshots, and her receptionist saw a man through a window as he was shot in a parking lot.
“There was like a pop, pop and my receptionist screamed, `he just shot that man’ and we all ran into the bathroom and locked the door,'” Criswell said.
Glenn Zachman, who owns a video news-gathering service, said he arrived at the scene of the arrest shortly after police and saw they had placed plastic bags over the man’s hands to preserve possible gunshot residue.
He also saw a bulletproof vest on the back of a patrol car but didn’t know if the man, dressed in a button-down shirt and pants, had been wearing it.
The man, in handcuffs, was placed in a patrol car and taken away about two-and-a-half hours after the shooting. A new white pickup truck that was believed to be his was parked on the modest residential street with its doors open.
The man was cooperative when officers, working from a description of the shooter, stopped him near the salon, Bowles said.
Shortly after he was arrested, police arrived at a house on Melody Lane in nearby Huntington Beach and escorted two women to a white car and then roped off the house with crime scene tape. Neighbors identified photos of the alleged shooter as their neighbor Scott. The house is registered to Scott Dekraai, and one of the licensed cosmetologists at the salon was Michelle Dekraai.
Kari Salveson of Los Alamitos, who attended a service for the victims at SeaCoast Grace Church in Seal Beach, said she had known Michelle Dekraai for several years and was aware that she and her ex-husband were involved in a bitter custody dispute over their son.
She said Michelle Dekraai made her every visit to the salon special.
“She could gab away. She was one of those girlfriends you could never get enough of. She made you smile and she made you laugh,” Salveson said.
In Huntington Beach, people were shocked to learn that one of the friendliest men in the neighborhood had been arrested for the shootings.
Dekraai’s neighbors described him as a friendly man who invited them over for pool parties at the house he’d lived in for about six years. They said he doted on his son, playing catch with the boy in his yard.
Neighbors said they were aware Dekraai was in a custody battle with his ex-wife over their son, who neighbors said is 7 or 8 years old.
“It was a very difficult battle and he was trying to get more time” with his son, said Jo Cornhall, who lives across the street from Dekraai.
Next-door neighbor Stephanie Malchow, 29, last saw Dekraai on Tuesday morning when he called out as she was leaving for work and said, “Hey neighbor, how’s it going? Have a great day.”
She was shocked when she saw the photo of the stocky man with thinning hair being detained by Seal Beach police.
“I’m like, no, not this neighbor, no way, he’s the nicest guy ever,” Malchow said.
Dekraai married his current wife two or three years ago in his backyard, said Malchow, who attended the wedding.
“He seemed very happy, he was just so happy he found someone new who loved his son,” she said.
Dekraai walked with a limp after a tug boat accident that killed a fellow tug boat operator about two miles off the coast in 2007. Cornhall said he uses a brace for his leg.
Police responding to a report of shots fired at Salon Meritage found six people dead and three wounded. Two of the wounded later died at a hospital. The other person was listed in critical condition.
Bowles said the victims were scattered throughout the salon. One wounded person, a man, was found outside the building. It wasn’t known if he was the one person who survived.
Police were still trying to determine the sequence of events inside the shop. They wouldn’t say what type of weapon was used or if the gunman used more than one.
“We’re unsure at this point if he shot from the entrance and people, as they were shot, ran in seeking cover or seeking shelter, but we have fatalities throughout the salon,” Bowles told reporters at a news conference outside the business.
He said the salon was busy at the time, with every hair-dressing station in operation.
Two former salon employees told The Associated Press the gunman’s ex-wife was a stylist at the salon and that the couple had gone through a bitter divorce.
“They had been having bitter problems for years and I guess he just went in there and started shooting,” said Lydia Sosa, who left Salon Meritage to open her own business but remained close with its owner, Randy Fannin. So did Sosa’s business partner, Tammy Hetzel, who said the couple’s problems were well-known among employees.
Cindy Spinosa, 51, who works at a nearby business, said she heard a siren around the time of the shooting.
“After that one of my co-workers got a phone call from her nephew,” Spinosa said. “He was outdoors when the suspect got into his truck and took off.”
The rampage rattled the community and people who witnessed the shooting and its aftermath. More than four hours later, a police officer escorted a woman who was crying and shaking past crime-scene tape and to her car.
“It’s a little disarming,” she said. “This is such a quiet community. We don’t expect things like this.”
Relatives of victims were taken to a nearby spiritual center.
Seal Beach has seen just one other homicide in the past four years, and Bowles said Wednesday’s killings were the greatest tragedy to ever strike the seaside town.
“Seal Beach is a small, safe community. We don’t experience these things, ever,” he said.
The normally quiet community of about 25,000 boasts on its website that it has “retained its quaint, small-town atmosphere” since it was founded in 1915.
The beachfront city is home to Leisure World, a gated senior citizen community of 9,000 people, as well as the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station military complex. Two-thirds of the city’s 13.23 square miles are occupied by the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge.
The city is also home to numerous salons, Criswell said, and most employees know each other.
“A lot of these people have worked together for years and they loved working there,” she said of the people at Salon Meritage.
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