O.C. shootings: Gunman a mystery figure to neighbors
Ali Syed killed three people before rolling out of the stolen car he was driving in Orange and shooting himself in the head with a shotgun, authorities say.
The part-time college student was not a memorable figure in his south Orange County neighborhood, said residents in the condo complex.
“I never knew this Ali guy,” said Jay Smith, 27, a next-door neighbor.
Smith said he never heard arguments or noise coming from the residence, where authorities said the burst of violence began when the gunman shot and killed a still-unidentified young woman.
"They are very quiet," he said.
The neighbor said he ran into the father and his daughter at the local grocery store about a year ago. The father noticed him first and walked over to say hello, Smith said.
Records show that Syed attended and graduated from Sierra High School in San Juan Capistrano and was taking a single course at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
The Lariat, the school newspaper at the community college, reported that Syed was taking a computer repair class and had amassed about 30 units in credit since enrolling at the Mission Viejo school in 2010.
Authorities said they were stunned by Tuesday’s "senseless violence," which spanned about 25 miles of normally placid suburbia.
Syed had no criminal record and left few clues as to any motive, police said.
"I just killed someone," he told one man during the rampage, according to police. "This is my last day."
Police discovered the first victim early Tuesday at a stucco condo in the home where Syed lived with his family. The woman had been shot multiple times.
Meanwhile, Syed had taken off in the family's black GMC Yukon, armed with at least one shotgun, authorities said. He exited the 5 Freeway at Red Hill Avenue in Tustin about 5 a.m. and pulled into a Denny's parking lot, officials said.
There, a man was sitting in an older-model blue Cadillac, waiting for his son. They'd planned to carpool to work.
Police said the gunman pointed his weapon at the man and yelled "Get out."
Instead the man sped away and Syed fired, shattering the Cadillac's rear window and striking the man in the back of the head. The man kept going — he was later treated at a hospital — and the gunman dashed to a nearby Mobil station, authorities said, where he spotted a man pumping gas.
"When they made eye contact, Syed started running toward the victim," said Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan. "He said to him, 'I don't want to hurt you. I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day.'"
The man obliged.
Syed took the man's Dodge pickup and headed north on the 5, authorities said. After merging onto the southbound 55 Freeway, he stopped on the shoulder, got out of the truck and opened fire on cars speeding by, hitting at least three.
The gunman then returned to the stolen pickup and exited the freeway at Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana. He hit another vehicle, slammed into a divider and abandoned the truck, authorities said. Then he approached a BMW and killed the driver, identified as Mel Edwards.
Officials said he sped away in the BMW to a Micro Center computer store in Tustin. Soon thereafter, workers at a nearby Fairfield Inn construction site heard gunfire.
Tom Van Schindel, a project superintendent, said a plumbing supervisor spotted one of his co-workers being chased through an overflow parking lot and drove over to help him. The co-worker, Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton, had just arrived for his 6 a.m. shift when, authorities said, Syed shot and killed him.
Sometime before 6 a.m., California Highway Patrol officers caught up with him on the northbound 55 Freeway. He exited on Katella Avenue and near East Katella and North Wanda Road, Jordan said, Syed got out of the vehicle "while it was still in motion." He raised a shotgun to his head and fired, killing himself, officials said.
— Nicole Santa Cruz, Rick Rojas, Anh Do, Kate Mather, Ashley Powers, Mike Anton and Hailey Branson-Potts