Prosecutor: Revenge was motive in salon massacre
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors said it was revenge and a desire to kill his ex-wife that drove a man to go on a deadly shooting rampage at a Southern California salon, leaving eight people dead and another critically wounded.
Shaking with emotion at a news conference Friday, Orange County's top prosecutor Tony Rackauckas vowed to seek the death penalty against the lone suspect Scott Dekraai as details emerged about the grisly scene at Salon Meritage.
First, Dekraai wrapped himself in body armor and armed himself with three handguns, prosecutors said. Then, he burst into the salon where his ex-wife worked — their 8-year-old son waiting at his school for one of them to pick him up.
Over two minutes, Dekraai moved methodically through the room, shooting his victims in the head and chest. Prosecutors said he wanted revenge against his ex-wife with whom he fought over the custody of their son.
"That little boy's a victim," said Rackauckas, pausing to compose himself. "Now his mother has been murdered, and he has to grow up knowing that his dad is a mass-murderer. So what kind of sick, twisted fatherly love might that be?"
Dekraai appeared briefly in court Friday afternoon, where angry friends and relatives of the victims screamed insults. One person shouted, "I hate you."
Superior Court Judge Erick L. Larsh ordered a medical review after Dekraai's attorney said his client wasn't getting his needed antipsychotic medication while he is held in jail without bail. Attorney Robert Curtis also said he would likely request that the trial be moved out of the area.
Prosecutors often spend time weighing mitigating and extenuating circumstances before deciding to seek the death penalty. Rackackas said he reached his decision in less than 48 hours because there was no reason to look for such factors in this case.
"There are some cases that are so depraved, so callous and so malignant that there is only one punishment that might have any chance of fitting the crime," said Rackauckas, the Orange County district attorney.
The crime, the worst in Seal Beach's 96-year history, has shaken the tight-knit seaside city of 24,000 that many residents call Mayberry by the Sea. Until this week, it had only one homicide in four years. The crime reported most often last year was larceny.
After a final phone conversation with his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, on Wednesday morning, authorities say, Dekraai drove to Salon Meritage in downtown Seal Beach, where he knew she would be working.
During a two-minute span, authorities say, he gunned down eight people in the salon and another outside in the parking lot. One person survived and is hospitalized in critical condition. The wounded person, 73-year-old Harriet Stretz, was having her hair done by her daughter, Laura Lee Elody, who was killed.
As people ran out of the building screaming or hid in adjacent rooms or simply lay on the floor attempting to play dead, the onslaught continued, with Dekraai only stopping to reload.
When he was done, the gunman walked out of the salon and, encountering a man in a parked car, shot him to death and drove away.
In a 911 call soon after the shooting, a construction worker who was across the street provides a physical description that matches Dekraai's appearance, calling him a large white man who weighs maybe 300 pounds.
"He was willing to end any life in his path, and he did," Rackauckas said.
Police pulled over Dekraai a short distance away, and he surrendered without resisting. Rackauckas called the killings cruel, merciless and methodical, adding they had nothing to do with love for Dekraai's son, who friends said the 41-year-old former tugboat operator doted on.
Dekraai and Fournier split up in 2006 and divorced the following year. The two had been involved in an increasingly acrimonious custody fight over their son ever since Dekraai had asked a judge for "final decision making authority" when it came to matters involving their son's education and his medical and psychological treatment.
Both parents were in court the day before the shootings for a custody hearing that was continued until December.
Fournier's attorney, John Cate, said a recent evaluation by a court-appointed psychologist concluded the couple's custody agreement, which gave each parent close to equal time with their son, should remain the way it was.
But Cate added that the report concluded neither parent was behaving as they should have.
"He found they were not co-parenting. In fact, they were parallel parenting and doing a poor job of it at that," Cate said of the psychologist's conclusions. "It led to a great deal of mistrust."
Despite the report, he said both Dekraai and Fournier were well mannered in court on Tuesday.
Cate also said one of the victims of the shooting, Christy Wilson, was a co-worker of Fournier's who spoke with the court-appointed psychologist. He speculated that might have led to Wilson being targeted by the gunman.
"She was a good friend of Michelle's and she paid the price for it, apparently," the lawyer said.
Throughout the custody battle, Dekraai and Fournier traded serious allegations, each calling the other an unfit parent.
Dekraai said in court papers that Fournier had a drinking problem, once showed up drunk at their son's Little League game and didn't keep a close watch on the boy.
Fournier responded in court papers that Dekraai was mentally unstable, had been violent and abusive to her when they were married and had once called 911 and threatened to kill himself and others.
Dekraai's stepfather, Leroy Hinmon, had gotten a temporary restraining order against him in 2007 after he said Dekraai attacked him. The order required Dekraai to surrender his guns, but it had long since expired.
Cate said Dekraai acknowledged to the court-appointed psychologist that he had been diagnosed as bipolar and was taking pain medication for a leg injury.
Shortly after their separation, Dekraai was badly injured in a tugboat accident as he tried to save a co-worker who was crushed to death when a towline snapped.
A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective who investigated the accident called his actions "heroic." ''He saw her pinned by her towline, and he immediately went to her side to try to assist her," Detective Robert Harris said at the time.
His leg badly mangled, Dekraai was unable to work, and friends and acquaintances have said he was in constant pain since then. He told the court he lived off an insurance settlement and his retirement benefits.
Associated Press Writers Gillian Flaccus in Santa Ana, Calif., and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.