O.C. shootings: 'I just killed someone.... This is my last day.'
Minutes after 20-year-old Ali Syed allegedly shot and killed a woman at his home in Ladera Ranch, he told his first carjacking victim: "I don't want to hurt you."
Authorities said he approached a man pumping gas in Tustin and told him: "I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day."
Despite Syed's statement that he meant no harm, law enforcement officials said the community college student went on to kill two more people in a violent and random killing spree before he turned the gun on himself.
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, authorities outlined his early-morning rampage that stretched from his family's Ladera Ranch home to Tustin to Orange.
Deputies were first called to the Red Leaf Lane home about 4:45 a.m. after his 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 the suspect. 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.Syed 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 Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan said 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, Jordan said. The man fled in his car and Syed opened fire, striking the man 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," he 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 Syed 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.
Syed 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 onto 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 the man as Melvin Lee Edwards, 69, of Laguna Hills, who was on his way to work when he was killed.
Edwards, 69, 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 is a former U.S. Army combat infantry officer who served in Vietnam, according to Rubicon Gear's website.
From there, Syed 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 this point, Jordan said, "many calls were coming in" and California Highway Patrol officers were preparing to stop the stolen vehicle. Syed exited the freeway at Katella Avenue and headed toward Wanda Road.
As he approached that intersection, Syed immediately got out of the still-moving vehicle, Jordan said.
“Mr. Syed exited his vehicle while it was still in motion,” he 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.
Authorities were still trying to determine a motive, but said Syed had no apparent connection to the people he shot in Tustin and Santa Ana. Amormino said Syed had no criminal record or job, but was taking a course at Saddleback College.
Officials aren't sure where Syed got the shotgun they recovered. It came from the Ladera Ranch home, Amormino said, but it was not clear who it was registered to.
-- 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