One of the four fatal victims in a shooting rampage in suburban Los Angeles on Wednesday was a nine-year-old boy who may have died in his wounded mother’s arms as she tried in vain to save him, officials said on Thursday.
“It appears that a little boy died in his mother’s arms as she was trying to save him during this horrific massacre,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told a news conference.
“Our hearts today go out to the victims, and I’m here to tell you that we’re going to do everything in our power in the Orange County District Attorney’s office to get justice for these families,” Spitzer said. He said he will consider seeking the death penalty.
The bloodshed in Orange, California, about 48km (30 miles) southeast of central Los Angeles, marked the third deadly mass shooting in the United States in less than a month.
In the two other outbursts in March, a man killed eight people including six Asian women at three Atlanta-area spas, and another man opened fire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, killing 10.
Unlike the other two outbursts, investigators in California have said they were able to determine immediately that the attacker knew the victims, ruling out a random act of violence.
“The preliminary motive is believed to be related to a business and personal relationship which existed between the suspect and all of the victims,” Orange Police Department Lieutenant Jennifer Amat told the same news conference.
Officials identified the suspect as Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, 44, a resident of the nearby city of Fullerton.
Besides the boy, the other fatalities were a man and two women.
The shooter and the woman who was protecting the boy both remained hospitalised in critical but stable condition, Amat said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the suspect entered the office complex of a business called Unified Homes that buys and sells mobile home and locked the gates to a courtyard behind him with bicycle locks, police said.
Shots were still being fired when officers arrived, officials said, but they were locked out until they could sever the chains with bolt cutters.
“In the meantime, horrific rampage was going on in offices and people were dying or were being shot,” Spitzer said.
From outside the courtyard, two of the officers engaged in a gun battle with the suspect, who was wounded and arrested, Amat said.
Tim Smith’s home is separated from the office’s parking lot by a wooden yard fence. He was in the back of his house when he heard a volley of three gunshots, then a volley of three and a final volley of four.
“The first words I heard after the shots were fired were, ‘Don’t move or I will shoot you,’” Smith, 64, recounted Thursday morning, according to The Associated Press.
Smith said he heard that repeated twice more by a man’s voice and believes it was a police officer speaking. He did not hear other voices or more shots. He later peeked over the fence and saw SWAT officers marching in a line in the building’s courtyard.
“It saddens me so much,” he said. “A senseless loss of life.”
Authorities recovered a semi-automatic handgun and a backpack containing pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition that they believe belonged to the suspect.
After aiding the wounded woman who appeared to be protecting the dead nine-year-old-boy, police searched the complex and found a dead woman on an upstairs outdoor landing, a dead man inside an office building, and a dead woman in another office building, Amat said.
Police are withholding their identities until relatives can be notified.