Yet another gory massacre. Story of apparently gratuitous violence. Nine mowed down during a Christmas-eve party by a man who was masquerading as Santa Claus. The Los Angeles community is agonizing. The killer was a very frustrated man.
The 45-year-old Bruce Pardo stormed his ex-wife's parents' annual holiday party and slaughtered revelers with a barrage of bullets before setting the home on fire.
Police Chief Kim Raney said Pardo fired a shot into the face of an 8-year-old girl who answered the door and at first fired indiscriminately, then apparently targeted relatives of his ex-wife as other guests fled.
"I need someone to come over and help my daughter!" a woman can be heard screaming to a 911 police dispatcher, according to a transcript released Friday. "She's been shot on the side of the face."
The woman then tries to describe the shooter, saying she couldn't recognize him at first in his Santa outfit. The dispatcher asked her to identify the gunman.
"His name is Bruce Pardo," she said. "He's still shooting out there."
The dispatcher tells her to hold on for a second.
"Please," the woman begs, "I don't know who else is still alive." The girl has luckily survived.
After the shootings, Pardo retreated to the front door and retrieved a device that mixed carbon dioxide or oxygen with high-octane racing fuel. Fleeing guests saw him spraying the fuel inside the house when the vapor was ignited, possibly by a pilot light or a candle, and exploded.
"Mr. Pardo was severely injured during that explosion," Raney said. "He suffered third-degree burns on both arms and it also appears that the Santa Claus suit that he was wearing did melt onto his body."
Pardo then drove to his brother's home in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles, broke in and shot himself in the head. His brother discovered the body early Thursday. Pardo had an airline ticket for a Christmas morning flight to Canada and $17,000 in cash on his body, some attached to his legs with Saran Wrap and some in a girdle, the chief said.
Before the suicide, Pardo used remnants of the Santa suit to booby-trap his rental car to explode, the chief said.
Raney said Pardo wired the suit so when it was lifted it "would pull a trip wire or a switch, ignite a flare inside the car that would then ignite black powder and he had several hundred rounds of handgun ammunition inside the car."
The device went off as a bomb squad worked to disarm it Thursday but no one was hurt.
A search of Pardo's own home in Montrose, a suburb northeast of Los Angeles, turned up racing fuel, five empty boxes for high-powered semi-automatic handguns and two high-powered shotguns.
The police chief said Pardo had no military experience, and in a resume he claimed to have a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering, AP reported.
The coroner has not identified the victims. But a relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dead included Pardo's ex-wife, her parents, two of her brothers and their wives, a nephew and a sister.
Divorce records indicated a bitter split that climaxed Dec. 18 with a hearing in which Pardo's ex-wife, Sylvia, was granted a cash settlement and his beloved dog, Saki.
"From what I understand, at that hearing, it became very contentious," said Lt. Tim Doonan of the Covina Police Department. "It's possible he started planning this prior to last Thursday. But based on Thursday . . . it might have been the trigger."
A major reason for the divorce, according to a source close to the investigation, was Sylvia Pardo's discovery that Pardo had abandoned his son through a previous marriage - after the boy suffered brain damage in a near-drowning accident as the father baby-sat him.
Compounding her anger was that Pardo continued to use the child as a tax write-off for seven years. She demanded he stop claiming his son as a dependent, Los Angeles Times reported.
Bruce Pardo owed her $10,000 as part of the settlement, according to court documents that detailed a bitter split. He also lost a dog he doted upon and did not get back a valuable wedding ring. They had no child together.
"No counseling or delay could help restore this marriage," the settlement stated. "There are irreconcilable differences which have led to the complete breakdown of the marriage."
A high school friend, Steve Erwin, said he spoke to Pardo just hours before the slayings, but had no real answers.
"I don't know why he snapped," Erwin said from his home in Iowa. The divorce and his fruitless job search, he was fired in July, weighed heavily on him, he said. "So he was just sitting at home, thinking about everything."
He had lost his electrical engineering job. His marriage ended after two years. The divorce battle proved expensive. Some people perhaps snap in such situations.
"It's a shock to everybody that knew him," said Jan Detanna, head usher at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose, where Pardo volunteered. "You just don't know what's going on sometimes."