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Gunman in Hawaiian Gardens was targeting mother of his child, family says [Updated]

May 6, 2010 |  3:31 pm

The 26-year-old gunman who went on a deadly early morning rampage in Hawaiian Gardens shot his way into the house, then fired at people in his path until he reached his apparent target: the mother of his 9-month-old baby, family members said.

Authorities allege that Joseph Mercado, 26, shot four people, killing three of them and wounding one other. A sheriff’s deputy heard the shots and responded to the scene. He shot Mercado, grazing his head, and arrested him.

[Updated at 3:15 p.m.: Alfredo Tarin Sr. has died at the hospital, family members said. He underwent two surgeries before his death. A previous version said two were killed, but the wording was changed to reflect the third death.]

Kitty Rivera, the sister of one of the victims, said that Mercado shot open the lock on the side door of the house just before 4 a.m. Her brother-in-law, Alfredo Tarin Sr., was standing at the door, getting ready to open it, when Mercado started firing. Mercado shot Tarin at least once in the stomach, Rivera said.

Tarin is undergoing a second surgery at Long Beach Memorial Hospital and remains in critical condition. After shooting Tarin, Mercado encountered Tarin’s wife, Lucianna Tarin. He shot her in the shoulder and right hand as she raised her arm in an attempt to cover her face, said Rivera, her sister. Then, after shooting them, Rivera said, Mercado went straight past the kitchen and up the stairs.

He was looking for Serena Tarin, 23, his ex-girlfriend and the mother of their 9-month-old baby, Rivera said. But on the way, he encountered Alfredo Tarin Jr., 19, and shot him in the entryway of his room, before continuing to Serena Tarin’s room.

“Nobody knows what made him do this,” Rivera said. "I think something must be wrong in your head or you have to be sick minded to go and do something like this."

Rivera said the Tarins and Mercado were apparently involved in a court dispute over the baby, but she did not know why that case would have escalated into the deadly shooting. The rest of the household – 10 people were home at the time – was unharmed. At least four people scurried through a window and onto the roof, authorities said.

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 a 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.

-- Ruben Vives in Long Beach, Anna Gorman in Hawaiian Gardens, Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles