[UPDATED with Student-Receptionist-Stripper?] 4 Dead in A.M. Shooting Spree
Updates throughout. The latest is Update No. 8 at the bottom of page 4 with conflicting reports about the female victim's employment.
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 19, 8:22 A.M.: Three people were killed and two others were wounded in a 25-minute spree of shootings that began in an upscale Ladera Ranch neighborhood this morning, and then moved near freeways in Tustin before ending with the gunman's apparent suicide in Villa Park.
The first victim was a woman found dead in her home at 5 Red Leaf Lane, Ladera Ranch, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
It is believed that the male gunman then fired on victims as he tried to flee the area by carjacking vehicles starting about 5:30 a.m. around the 5 and 55 freeways, according to the Tustin Police Department.
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Closures and police investigations are under way in Tustin: at the 55 freeway and McFadden Street in Tustin, near where a vehicle was carjacked behind a computer store; Edinger Avenue and Del Amo; and El Camino Real and Red Hill Avenue.
Some victims were fatally shot as the gunmen took their cars, while innocent bystanders were also wounded by ammo rounds. One woman reported seeing the man exit an SUV with two large firearms.
The man believed to be the gunman was found driving on the 55 freeway before leading a short chase that ended with him getting out of a vehicle at Villa Park and Wanda roads in Villa Park and taking his own life.
These details are coming fast and furious and are subject to change given the ongoing investigation, so this post will be updated.
UPDATE NO. 1, FEB. 19, 10:38 A.M.: Local law enforcement is not ready to release the identities of the gunman and victims in this morning's chaotic shooting spree, although they do offer hope of having that information for the media at a 2 p.m. press conference
At a just-concluded press conference by spokesmen from the Tustin and Santa Ana police departments and Orange County Sheriff's Department, the following new details were revealed:
- A shotgun was recovered next to the white male in his 20s who apparently took his own life in Villa Park after the rampage. The spokesmen do not yet know if other weapons were used.
- Each of three carjackings blamed on that suspect involved gunfire. The first victim, near Red Hill Avenue and the 5 freeway in Tustin, is surviving his wounds.
- The second victim, near the southbound 55 freeway and McFadden Avenue in Santa Ana, was led at gunpoint out of his BMW and to the curb, then executed in cold blood.
- There were two victims at the next crime scene, which is at Edinger Avenue east of the 55 behind the Micro Center computer store in Tustin. One person died and the second is being treated for gunshot wounds.
- The gunman is believed to fired random rounds at passing motorists either from a parked vehicle alongside the freeways or after getting out of a vehicle. At least three people came forward to say their vehicles had been damaged, and one of them suffered a minor injury. Investigators are encouraging other possible victims to come forward immediately.
- The FBI and California Highway Patrol are also involved in the investigations, which at this point include four dead (including the suspect), two recovering from gunshot wounds and the one person who suffered a minor wound in the random spray of gunfire.
- Authorities hope to have more on the relationship (if any) between the gunman and the woman who was shot to death in Ladera Ranch, what the motive was from the shooting spree and identifications at a 2 p.m. press conference.
- The sheriff's department had received no prior calls to the 5 Red Leaf Lane address in Ladera Ranch. "It's a very quiet community," explained Jim Amormino, the sheriff's spokesman. "It is very rare anything of this nature would happen in that community."
A Sarwat Syed, 42, of Ladera Ranch, was arrested in August 2011 for a hit-and-run crash on the 405 freeway near Laguna Canyon Road the previous June that injured then-4-year-old Ava O'Connor, who was being driven back from Pretend City by a friend's mother. Ava went on to undergo a nine-hour operation to repair her jaw, upper palate, eye sockets and nose, and later recovered at home with a feeding tube, a tracheostomy and 10 plates in her head.
Syed was arrested after the CHP linked a partial license-plate number with an insurance claim she filed the day after the hit-and-run for damage to her GMC Yukon Denali.
Meanwhile, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer released the following statement this morning:
"This morning's horrific shootings are devastating to Orange County and the people of my district. My heart goes out to the families of the victims and to those who were wounded. I pray for healing for our community as we honor the victims in the coming days."
He also praised Orange County law enforcement, who for the second time this month have faced a deadly shooter, a reference to the Christopher Dorner saga.
"Our men and women of law enforcement put their lives at risk every day to keep us safe," Spitzer said. "I'm so proud of our city and county law enforcement, and I have the utmost confidence in them as they work to complete today's investigation."
UPDATE NO. 3, FEB. 19, 12:52 P.M.: Neighbors say a woman in her 40s with three children resided in the Ladera Ranch home, where gunshots were heard in the moments around 2 a.m. followed by another ruckus a couple of hours later.
An adult male was seen picking up the children later in the morning.
News blogger Dennis Romero of our sister paper LA Weekly created the following Google map of this morning's shooting rampage:
View OC Shooting Rampage in a larger map
UPDATE NO. 4, FEB. 19, 2:41 P.M.: The gunman who took his own life after a cross-county freeway rampage that began with a murder in his own Ladera Ranch home has been identified as 20-year-old Ali Syed.
The woman who was shot to death in Syed's home has only been identified as being in her 20s. She was not related to Syed.
The gunman's parents and siblings were at home at the time of the shooting, but Ali Syed had left the home in his parents' black Denali SUV by then. As previously reported, property records show the home at 5 Red Leaf Lane, Ladera Ranch, is owned by Irfan and Sarwat Syed and that a Sarwat Syed of Ladera Ranch had previously been arrested on suspicion of hit and run for an accident involving a Denali SUV.
Jim Amormino, the Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman, says none of the Syeds Ali left behind were injured, and that investigators are still trying to figure out who the woman in her 20s was, why she was in the home and why Ali Syed killed her.
An unemployed student taking one class at Saddleback College, Ali Syed had no previous criminal record, Amormino said.
It is believed Syed damaged the Denali before carjacking a vehicle behind the Micro Center in Tustin, where two people were shot, one of whom died.
The man Santa Ana Police say Syed "executed" in that city was identified as Melvin Lee Edwards, 69, of Laguna Hills, who is believed to have complied with all the gunman's demands before being shot to death.
"Our hearts, our condolences go out to the family," Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas said at a 2 p.m. press conference with Amormino and Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan."This was a tragedy all over the county; this was senseless violence." Rojas credited various Orange County police agencies with coming together "quickly" to ensure "Mr. Syed is no longer a danger to the community."
Jordan said a shotgun was the only known weapon Syed used. After murdering three and injuring several others, the suspect got out of the last vehicle he carjacked near Katella Avenue and Wanda Road; it was still moving slowly, and pursuing officers were bearing down, the Tustin chief said.
As the vehicle continued up a curb, "almost instantly, he took out the shotgun, put it up to his head and killed himself," Jordan said of Syed.
"There is no indication of a motive," Jordan said of the freeway shootings. "We do not believe it was connected to a conspiracy. There is no information on additional suspects."
Jordan believes the shotgun belonged to Syed, whom the chief said repeated the following to one Tustin victim who was not killed: "I killed somebody. Today is my last day. I don't want to live."
It's unclear if one victim with a mouth injury was hit by gunfire or broken glass, the chief said.
UPDATE NO. 5, FEB. 19, 3:46 P.M.: The Tustin and Santa Ana police departments and Orange County Sheriff's Department have confirmed the following chain of events and identities from today's shooting spree blamed on 20-year-old Ali Syed.
At 4:45 a.m., there were reports of shots fired at 5 Red Leaf in Ladera Ranch, where Syed resided with his parents and siblings; he had shot a woman in her 20s multiple times. She died at the scene and has not yet been identified. She is not related to the Syeds.
Before his family could intervene, Syed fled the address in the family's black Denali SUV. About 5:10 a.m. near Red Hill Avenue and Nisson Road in Tustin, just off the 5 freeway, a driver who saw Syed loading a shotgun drove off just as Syed got out of the SUV and fired into the man's back window. He was shot in the back of the head but managed to drive away.
Syed got back into the black SUV despite it having sustained damage that included a flat tire. He abandoned the SUV, approached a man at a fuel station and said, "I don't want to hurt you. I just killed somebody. Today's my last day. Give me your keys." The man complied, and Syed drove off in his pickup north on the 5 freeway to the southbound 55 freeway.
Along the way, Syed opened fire on fellow motorists, including one person who may have been injured by shattered glass and two drivers whose vehicles sustained damage. It's unclear if Syed fired from inside or outside the pickup.
He continued to the Village Way exit off the 55 freeway in Santa Ana, where he had Melvin Lee Edwards get out of his BMW and walk to the curb before executing the 69-year-old Laguna Hills man, who was shot three times.
Syed drove the BMW to the Micro Center parking lot off Edinger Avenue and Newport Avenue east of the 55 in Tustin, where two people were shot. One of them, Jeremy Lewis, 27, of Fullerton, died. The other victim had a round graze his arm.
Syed got into the injured man's truck and drove up the 55 to Orange with the Highway Patrol following him. He exited at Katella Avenue heading east, picking up Orange police officers as well. He got out of the truck as it was still moving slowly near Wanda Road, took out his shotgun, put it up to his head and killed himself.
UPDATE NO. 6, FEB. 20, 3:42 P.M.: The woman who was found fatally shot multiple times in the Ladera Ranch home of her presumed killer Ali Syed has been identified as 20-year-old Courtney Aoki of Buena Park.
She has an online profile on the actor/model-casting site ExploreTalent.com.
Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said at a just-concluded press conference that investigators still do not know how she knew Syed, how she arrived at his home or what she was doing there. Rumors swirling around the media that Aoki was a stripper on an escort call have not been confirmed, Amormino said.
"Their relationship is still uncofirmed and unknown at this time," he said. "This is an active investigation. There is still a lot of work to do. Until we can establish a definite relationship . . . we'll be glad to share that with you when the time is appropriate."
Aoki died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds, according to an autopsy. It was difficult to identify her initially, Amormino said, because the first set of fingerprints taken did not produce a hit from CalID and there was no vehicle in the neighborhood that could be tied to her. A second set that was taken did produce a name.
Releasing that to the public was delayed because addresses for her did not check out and a next of kin could not be found, explained Amormino, who added the place of work of Aoki's mother was ultimately uncovered and she was notified of her daughter's death around 2:30 p.m. today. The mother resides in Orange County, but her daughter did not live with her.
An autopsy on Syed revealed he died of a single gunshot wound to the head. No drugs or narcotics have been found in his system, but Amormino said more tests must be done. The spokesman disputed media reports that said narcotics were found in his bedroom.
The Syed family lives in a three-story home on 5 Red Leaf Lane, with 20-year-old Ali's room having been on the first floor and the parents' on the third, so Amormino said it is possible the story they told investigators is true: They did not know their son had a woman over or hear any commotion before gunshots were fired. Deputies were called to the address at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Amormino said Syed graduated from *
JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano in 2010 and had been taking a class or two every semester since at Saddleback College, where he mostly enrolled in computer-maintenance courses. He was unemployed. The spokesman described Syed as a "loner" and "gamer" who spent many hours alone in his room playing computer video games. His computer and the games he played are now being checked, Amormino said. (*REPORTER'S NOTE: A JSerra official tells the Weekly Syed actually attended the public Junipero Serra High School, also in San Juan Capistrano and, she said, often confused for JSerra.)
The 12-gauge shotgun, purchased by his father about a year ago, did belong to the 20-year-old, who was legally entitled to possess it, said Amormino, adding nothing has been discovered to explain Syed's violent behavior. "In the course of the investigation, they will determine a motive," Amormino vowed. "At this stage, we don't know what it is."
Aoki was dressed when she was found deceased, Amormino said, knocking down another rumor that she was nude. There was no evidence found of a sexual assault, but more tests are being done, according to the spokesman, who also denied reports Syed had a child.
UPDATE NO. 7, FEB. 20, 4:05 P.M.: This afternoon's press conference was essentially hijacked by Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who explained most of the shooting-spree crimes took place in his district, so he was there to talk about violent video games, mental health, the easy access to guns for the mentally ill and other issues that concern parents such as himself.
It so became the Todd Show that live coverage by an LA news program ended as Spitzer was in mid-spitz.
Here are a few more rampage items that came out before the press conference:
- The man "executed" in Santa Ana, Melvin Lee Edwards, 69 of Laguna Hills, was a Vietnam War veteran driving to the business he owns, Rubicon Gear, an aerospace and defense-industry manufacturer. He is survived by his wife, an adult daughter and an adult son.
Jeremy Lewis, R.I.P.
- The plumber on the R.D. Olson Construction crew shot and killed while sitting in a vehicle during a break from the Edinger and Newport avenues work site in Tustin was Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton.
- Lewis' foreman and friend who ran over when he heard the shots that took Lewis' life was Shane Caporaso. "The guy walked out with shotgun at me, told me that this was the result of narcotic companies, but it didn't matter because he would be dead in 20 minutes anyway," Caporaso told KABC Eyewitness News of Syed. Caporaso was told to take 30 steps back, but after he turned around, he heard Syed chamber another round in his shotgun. Caporaso began running and was shot in the arm, the bullet piercing the bicep of what would turn out to be Syed's last shooting victim.
Well, second to the last if you count Syed himself, who shot himself in Villa Park after stealing Caporaso's truck. The construction foreman credited his co-workers with helping him and getting in their vehicles to chase Syed down.
Courtney Aoki, R.I.P.
UPDATE NO. 8, FEB. 21, 10:32 A.M.: There are conflicting reports this morning about whether Courtney Aoki worked in the adult industry, which may have taken her to Ali Syed's Ladera Ranch home and, ultimately, her end.
KTLA/Channel 5 news reports speaking with an unidentified driver who claimed to take Aoki and other girls to clients and provide security for them. "She was a stripper," the man reportedly said. "She stripped so she can pay her way through college." He adds that he did not drive her Tuesday morning to Ladera Ranch.
The idea that Aoki stripped "completely shocked" her mother, according to a KNBC/Channel 4 news report. She said her daughter worked as a receptionist for a photographer and planned to attend college in April. She also had a boyfriend who was not Syed, according to Courtney's mother.
Investigators are still trying to determine what Aoki did for a living and whether it's what brought her to Syed. His parents told sheriff's deputies they did not know Aoki was in their home, who she was or what she was doing there.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's department released the 9-1-1 call to 5 Red Leaf Lane that set the sweeping shooting spree into motion. You can Google to find an audio file online if you want to listen, but it essentially has Syed's mother freaking out at first about a strange dead woman in her home. "I think somebody's shot ... in my house," she says. "Somebody's shot. I think there's somebody shot." Her husband eventually takes the phone and asks, "Can you please send somebody here? Our son lives with us and I think they got into a fight or something and we heard a gunshot." He mentions the shotgun he purchased for his son legally and how he and his wife did not enter his room but believed there might be a victim there. Dispatchers were also told Ali Syed had likely fled in the SUV. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!
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