A gunman dressed as Santa Claus who opened fire on a Christmas Eve party at the home of his ex-wife’s family was planning to flee to Canada, police said, as a ninth body was recovered from the charred wreckage of the massacre.
Police said Bruce Pardo, 45, was found with US$17,000 taped to his body and a plane ticket to Canada after he killed himself following his murderous assault on the home of his former in-laws in the Los Angeles suburb of Covina.
The unemployed aerospace engineer burst into the property armed with four pistols shortly before midnight on Wednesday and sprayed guests with bullets before the house erupted in flames.
The house was owned by James and Alicia Ortega, an elderly couple who were retired from their spray-painting business and who often invited their extended family to celebrate Christmas.
An eight-year-old girl who had opened the door to Pardo was shot in the face but survived. Later on Friday, police released harrowing 911 calls apparently made by the girl’s mother immediately after the incident.
“We need someone immediately. My daughter’s been shot. She was shot in the face,” the woman said, with the anguished high-pitched wailing of a child clearly audible in the background.
Pardo had recently gone through a bitter divorce with his wife — who was reported to be among the dead — but there were no further clues as to what may have triggered the murderous rampage.
The 1.9m, 113kg Pardo had no criminal record and nothing in his personal history to suggest a predisposition to violence, police said. Friends from a church Pardo attended regularly expressed disbelief.
“He was just the nicest guy,” said Jan Detanna, who worked with Pardo as an usher at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.
Covina police chief Kim Raney told reporters Pardo had apparently intended to flee to Canada following the attack, saying thousands of dollars in cash had been found strapped to his body after he shot himself early on Thursday.
He had also bought a ticket to Canada leaving early Christmas morning but scrapped plans to go on the run after suffering third degree burns in the house blaze that melted parts of his Santa Claus costume to his body, Raney said.
“All indications are he intended to commit the crime, flee the country, and it appears he didn’t anticipate injuring himself to the point where obviously he took his own life,” Raney said.
Police said Pardo had arrived at the house with what appeared to be a homemade flamethrower comprised of two canisters, one containing oxygen or carbon dioxide, the other a high-octane racing fuel.
However, police believe the device exploded sooner than Pardo intended, leaving him with serious burn injuries.
Pardo killed himself with a single shot to the head hours after the rampage at his brother’s home in Sylmar, approximately 40km away.
Police revealed that the car used by Pardo in the attack, found outside his brother’s home, had been rigged with a booby trap that would be triggered when officers attempted to move his discarded Santa Claus suit.
“He basically wired the Santa Claus suit with a device to explode,” Raney said.