O.C. shooting rampage: Gunman's motive a mystery
Police said they are searching for a motive after a college student allegedly killed three people before taking his own life during a terrifying rampage across Orange County on Tuesday.Ali Syed, 20, had no apparent connection to most of the people he allegedly shot. Officials said Syed had no criminal record and no job but was taking a course at Saddleback College.
Officials aren't sure where the gunman got the shotgun they recovered. They said it came from Syed's Ladera Ranch home, but it was not clear who it was registered to.
Minutes after Syed allegedly shot and killed a woman at his home, he told his first carjacking victim "I don't want to hurt you," according to Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan.
Authorities said Syed approached a man pumping gas in Tustin and told him: "I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day."
Despite stating that he intended no harm, law enforcement officials said he went on to kill two more people in a violent and random rampage before turning the gun on himself.
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, authorities outlined the early morning rampage that stretched from the family's Ladera Ranch home to Tustin and Orange.
Deputies were first called to the Red Leaf Lane home about 4:45 a.m. after Syed's parents reported a shooting, Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. Responding deputies found a woman dead inside who had been shot multiple times.
The relationship between the woman and Syed was not yet known, Amormino said, although she was not related to him. The woman has not yet been identified.
Family members, including children, were at the home at the time of the shooting, Amormino said, but no other injuries were reported.The gunman then fled the area and headed toward Tustin, where Amormino said "multiple incidents" occurred.
The first of those, authorities said, occurred near Red Hill Avenue and the 5 Freeway about 5:10 a.m., when Syed pulled into a Denny's parking lot, where a man in an older-model Cadillac was waiting for his son to carpool to work.
Syed shouted at the man to get out of the car and pointed a shotgun at him, said Jordan, the Tustin police chief, but the man fled in his car and Syed opened fire, striking him in the back of the head through a back window. The man escaped and was later hospitalized, but his condition was not known Tuesday afternoon.
Syed then went to a Mobil station across the street, where another man was pumping gas, Jordan said.
"When they made eye contact, Syed started running toward the victim," Jordan said. " 'I don't want to hurt you.' "
Syed stole the Dodge pickup and headed north on the 5 Freeway to the 55 Freeway, Jordan said. There, he stopped the car on the shoulder and began firing at motorists. Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said the gunman may have realized that the pickup was low on fuel and was trying to steal a second vehicle.
During that freeway gunfire, at least three vehicles were hit. Two drivers suffered damage to their cars; the third sustained injuries to his mouth or hand, though officials stressed it could have been from debris from the car and not necessarily bullets. That man, a Tustin resident, didn’t have a cellphone but drove home and called police.
The gunman got back in the Dodge pickup and continued driving on the 55 Freeway, exiting at Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana, where authorities said he rammed another pickup and crashed into a center divider, got out and headed toward a BMW stopped at a stop sign.
"He orders him out of the vehicle, walks him to the side of the curb and executes our victim,” Bertagna said.
Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas identified that man as Melvin Lee Edwards, 69, of Laguna Hills, who was on his way to work when he was killed.
Edwards was the chairman of Rubicon Gear in Tustin, located not far from where he was shot. The family-run business manufactures high-precision gears and shafts and was founded by Edwards' father.
Edwards graduated from USC and was a former U.S. Army combat infantry officer who served in Vietnam, according to Rubicon Gear's website.
From there, the gunman drove to the Micro Center computer store in Tustin, where he came across a white utility truck with a man inside. "There was another confrontation," Jordan said, and that man was shot and killed.
That victim was identified by police as Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton. Co-workers said Lewis, a plumber, was one of 70 to 80 people finishing work on the Fairfield Inn and a neighboring Marriott Residence Inn.
Project superintendent Craig Heising called Lewis "a good guy" with a "good heart."
"He showed up every day, on time, ready to do his share of work. When I saw police pull the yellow tarp over him ... I was just overwhelmed by the senselessness of it," Heising said. "It's a classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Other workers saw what was happening and went to the parking lot, trying to figure out what was going on, police said. Syed told another plumber to run, Jordan said.
"He took off running and he too was shot," Jordan said.
The condition of that man, who was wounded in the arm, was not known Tuesday afternoon. Syed took the utility truck and continued north on the 55 Freeway.
At that point, Jordan said, "many calls were coming in" and California Highway Patrol officers were preparing to stop the stolen vehicle. Syed reportedly exited the freeway at Katella Avenue and headed toward Wanda Road.
As he approached that intersection, he got out of the still-moving vehicle, Jordan said.
“Mr. Syed exited his vehicle while it was still in motion,” Jordan said. “Almost instantly, he took the shotgun, put it to his head and killed himself.”
Jordan said there “wasn’t really a confrontation” at the end. “It happened so quickly," he said.
-- Kate Mather and Hailey Branson-Potts in Los Angeles, Anh Do and Mike Anton in Tustin, Nicole Santa Cruz in Ladera Ranch, Rick Rojas in Orange
Photo: Tustin police and the covered victim of a shooting in Tustin on Tuesday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times