Stinging from an acrimonious divorce, a man plotting revenge against his ex-wife dressed up like Santa, went to his former in-laws’ Christmas Eve party and slaughtered at least eight people before killing himself hours later.
Bruce Pardo’s ex-wife and her parents were believed to be among the dead. Investigators planned to return to the scene yesterday and sift through the ashes of the home, which Pardo set ablaze using a bizarre homemade device that sprayed flammable liquid.
Pardo, 45, had no criminal record and no history of violence, police said, but he was angry following last week’s settlement of the divorce after a marriage that lasted barely a year.
“It was not an amicable divorce,” police Lieutenant Pat Buchanan said.
Pardo chose to exact his revenge at the annual Christmas party his former in-laws held at their two-story home on a cul-de-sac in a quiet Covina neighborhood several kilometers east of Los Angeles.
“Christmases were that special time of the year, it meant so much to them,” Rosa Ordaz, a family friend of the victims, told KCBS-TV.
In past years, a neighbor dressed as Santa Claus and entertained guests. But the neighbor had moved away and there was no Santa — until Pardo arrived at around 11:30pm.
The massacre began when an eight-year-old girl answered Pardo’s knock at the door. Pardo, carrying what appeared to be a large present, pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face, then began shooting indiscriminately as about 25 partygoers tried to flee, police said at a news conference.
A 16-year-old girl was shot in the back, and a 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when she escaped by jumping from a second-story window. Those two, and the eight-year-old, remained hospitalized Christmas Day. All were expected to recover.
The gift-wrapped box Pardo was carrying actually contained a pressurized homemade device he used to spray a liquid that quickly sent the house up in flames. Police said Pardo had recently worked in the aerospace industry.
David Salgado, a neighbor, said he saw the eight-year-old victim being escorted to an ambulance by four SWAT team members as flames up to 12m high consumed the house.
“It was really ugly,” Salgado said.
Another neighbor, Jan Gregory, said she saw a teenage boy flee the home, screaming: “They shot my family.”
When the fire was extinguished early on Thursday, officers found three charred bodies in the living room area.
“They were met with a scene that was just indescribable,” police Chief Kim Raney said. Investigators found five more bodies amid the ashes later in the day and planned to return yesterday to continue looking.
None of the dead or missing has been identified. Authorities were unable to immediately determine whether the victims were killed by the flames or the gunfire.
Following the shootings, Pardo quickly got out of the Santa suit and drove off, witnesses told police. He went to his brother’s home about 40km away in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. No one was home, so Pardo let himself in, police said.
Police were called to the home early on Thursday and officers found Pardo dead of a single bullet to the head. Two handguns were found at the scene, and two more were discovered in the wreckage of his former in-laws’ house.
A car that Pardo apparently parked near his brother’s home exploded Thursday evening and more ammunition was found in it, Los Angeles police Sergeant Francisco Wheeling said. She had no immediate details on what set off the explosion. No one was hurt.