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Members of Hawaiian Gardens family hid on roof as gunman fired inside

May 6, 2010 | 11:02 am

Sheriff's officials said Thursday that some members of a Hawaiian Gardens family hid on the roof of their home as a gunman fired shots inside with an assault rifle in a rampage that killed two and wounded three.

MercadoThe gunman, Joseph Mercado, 26, -- the ex-boyfriend of a woman who was killed and the father of her child -- entered the home on Devlin Avenue by a side entrance and shot the lock to get in, officials said. The first person he encountered was apparently the father of his ex-girlfriend, who was shot near the entrance.

The mother of the ex-girlfriend was shot in the kitchen.

The gunman then apparently went upstairs, where he shot his ex-girlfriend and her brother in their beds. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

The home was occupied by 10 people at the time. The mother and father were in critical condition at a hospital.

"People were diving out the windows," said Bill McSweeney, chief of detectives for the the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities said they believed the man was distraught after breaking up with his girlfriend and that he shot the family members and then attempted to burn down the home by dousing the house inside and out with gasoline.

"It appears he may have been trying to burn the house down," said Lt. Don Slawson at a news conference outside the home. "We found a can of gasoline outside the location. It looks like he may have tried to ignite it. There are some burn marks on the outside of the home."

A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy happened to be about two doors away when he heard gunfire around 4 a.m. and went to the home. He ordered the gunman to drop his weapon, and the gunman turned toward the deputy, who shot two rounds at him, striking him once, Slawson said.

“The deputy took him right on. He did what he had to do to prevent potential loss of life. That’s pretty heroic. Who knows what this man would have done,” said Los Angeles County Undersheriff Larry L. Waldie.  
“It was very clear what he wanted to do. He was  coming in with gas can [with an assault rifle]. Whoever he encountered in that house, he intended to do fatal harm to them.”

The gunman experienced a graze wound to his head, officials said, though earlier reports said his wound was more serious.

Six family members inside the house managed to escape from an upper window and climb up to the roof, Slawson said.

Slawson said Mercado had been arrested before, but did not give details. Mercado was being booked at the Lakewood sheriff’s station.

Joseph Ruvalcava, a friend of the family, said the gunman and his ex-girlfriend had been involved in a custody dispute over their baby.

"The couple was not married," Ruvalcava said. "They were not engaged. They were on separate terms.”

A neighbor about four houses away, 24-year-old Jose Rueda, said he was awake when he heard what sounded like rapid gunfire.

He said he heard a sheriff's deputy yell out, "Freeze!" and then heard three more shots.

Others in his house were awakened by their dog's barking.

"I got freaked out," Rueda said. Rueda's relative, 21-year-old Jessica Macias, said she and her 18-year-old sister were scared because they thought the gunman was going from house to house shooting people.

"Normally we hear about gangs coming in and shooting in the neighborhood,” Macias said. "This is the first time we heard about this kind of shooting."

"You hear about this all the time, crazy shootings, where innocent people get killed,” she added.

Residents said the neighborhood is normally quiet but has experienced gang problems.

-- Ruben Vives in Hawaiian Gardens, Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Photo: L.A. County Sheriff