A gunman dressed as Santa Claus who opened fire on a Christmas Eve party at the home of his ex-wife's family was planning to flee to Canada, police said, as a ninth body was recovered from the charred wreckage of the massacre. Police said Bruce Pardo, 45, was found, with US$17,000 (Dh62,441) taped to his body and a plane ticket to Canada, after he killed himself following his murderous assault on the home of his former in-laws in the Los Angeles suburb of Covina.
The unemployed aerospace engineer burst into the property armed with four pistols shortly before midnight Wednesday and sprayed guests with bullets before the house erupted in flames. The house was owned by James and Alicia Ortega, an elderly couple who were retired from their spray-painting business and who often invited their extended family to celebrate Christmas. An eight-year-old girl who had opened the door to Pardo was shot in the face but survived. Later Friday, police released harrowing calls to 911, the US's emergency phone system, apparently made by the girl's mother immediately after the incident.
"We need someone immediately. My daughter's been shot. She was shot in the face," the woman said, with the anguished high-pitched wailing of a child clearly audible in the background. Pardo had recently gone through a bitter divorce with his wife - who was reported to be among the dead - but there were no further clues as to what may have triggered the murderous rampage. The 1.9 metre, 113 kilogram Pardo had no criminal record and nothing in his personal history to suggest a predisposition to violence, police said. Friends from a church Pardo attended regularly expressed disbelief.
"He was just the nicest guy," said Jan Detanna, who worked with Pardo as an usher at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. Covina police chief Kim Raney said Pardo had apparently intended to flee to Canada following the attack, revealing thousands of dollars in cash had been found strapped to his body after he shot himself early Thursday. He had also bought a ticket to Canada leaving early Christmas morning but scrapped plans to go on the run after suffering third degree burns in the house blaze that melted parts of his Santa Claus costume to his body, Ms Raney said.
"All indications are he intended to commit the crime, flee the country, and it appears, he didn't anticipate injuring himself to the point where obviously he took his own life," Ms Raney said. Police said Pardo had arrived at the house with what appeared to be a homemade flame-thrower comprised of two canisters, one containing oxygen or carbon dioxide, the other a high-octane racing fuel. However police believe the device exploded sooner than Pardo intended, leaving him with serious burn injuries.
Pardo killed himself with a single shot to the head hours after the rampage at his brother's home in Sylmar, about 40 kilometres away. Police revealed that the car used by Pardo in the attack, found outside his brother's home, had been rigged with a booby trap which would be triggered when officers attempted to move his discarded Santa Claus suit. "He basically wired the Santa Claus suit with a device to explode," Ms Raney said. The car burst into flames as bomb disposal experts attempted to deactivate the advice. No officers were hurt in the explosion.
Authorities have yet to publicly identify those killed by Pardo, but local media reported the victim's ex-wife and in-laws were among the dead. Los Angeles County Coroner's Office assistant chief Ed Winter said none of the nine bodies recovered from the crime scene were identifiable. "The bodies were burnt and are charred to the point that are not recognisable," Chief Winter said. "We're going to need both medical X-rays and dental X-rays before we can make positive identification."
Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times reported that Pardo's marriage had foundered after his ex-wife discovered he had a "secret" son from a previous relationship. * AFP