8 dead, 1 critical in worst shooting in OC history

An onlooker reacts near the site where six people were killed and three were wounded in a shooting at a hair salon in Seal Beach, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.
An onlooker reacts near the site where six people were killed and three were wounded in a shooting at a hair salon in Seal Beach, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.
Chris Carlson/AP

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Eight are dead and one critically injured after a man allegedly went on a shooting rampage Wednesday afternoon in a Seal Beach salon on the Pacific Coast Highway. Police soon took a white male suspect into custody, identified by as Scott Dekraai, after a traffic stop. The death toll made it the worst mass shooting in Orange County history.

The suspect indicated he had multiple weapons in his car, which appeared to be a four-door white pickup, when he was stopped. He did not resist arrest, a sergeant for the Seal Beach Police Department first told KCAL9. KNX 1070 reported the man appeared to be targeting his ex-wife, and police said they were operating under the assumption that the shooter had a relationship with someone in the salon.

"Obviously, a crime of this magnitude is something Seal Beach is not familiar with. This isn't a regular occurrence so there may be something to the motive as to a relationship with somebody in the salon. That is our assumption," said a police spokesman.

Multiple outlets reported that the suspect was the ex-husband of a woman named Michelle who worked in the salon, citing friends at the scene. Witnesses say she was the first person shot in the rampage.

Police said they found the victims scattered throughout the salon shortly after the shooting began around 1:20 p.m. Six were declared dead at the scene. Three critically injured people, two males and one female, were taken to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, said Marc Stone, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. Police reported at 4:30 p.m. that two of them died there. There were people in the salon who were not injured, police said, but most if not all of the salon's hair cutting stations were filled when the shooting began. The salon, Salon Meritage, is located at 500 Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach.

Kimberly Criswell, who owns a salon just two doors down from the scene of the shootings, said she and her customers and employees heard gunshots, and her receptionist saw a man through a window as he was shot in a parking lot.

"There was like a pop, pop and my receptionist screamed, 'he just shot that man' and we all ran into the bathroom and locked the door,'" Criswell said.

Glenn Zachman, who owns a video news-gathering service, said he arrived at the scene of the arrest shortly after police and saw they had placed plastic bags over the man's hands to preserve possible gunshot residue.

He also saw a bulletproof vest on the back of a patrol car but didn't know if the man, dressed in a button-down shirt and pants, had been wearing it.

Family members who arrived at the scene were told to go to a nearby church, KCAL9 reported. The manager of the complex told KPCC the salon has been open there for more than 10 years. Another bystander told KPCC she'd been going to the salon for years and knew the owner, who the L.A. Times reported died in the shooting.

Jean Nagel showed up outside the salon, she said, because a worker of the salon told her two of the victims were her friends.

"[He] killed the owner of the salon and two women who went to high school with me. "I just cant, it’s just ridiculous, I just can’t believe this happened," she said.

The Orange County Register and San Clemente Patch have more details from eyewitnesses who were in the salon when the shooting began, but escaped unharmed.

Seal Beach has seen just one other homicide in the past four years. The killings on Wednesday stunned the normally quiet community of about 25,000 that boasts on its website that it has "retained its quaint, small-town atmosphere" since it was founded in 1915.

"Seal Beach is a small, safe community. We don't experience these things, ever," Bowles said.

The beachfront city is home to Leisure World, a gated senior citizen community of 9,000 people, as well as the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station military complex. Two-thirds of the city's 13.23 square miles are occupied by the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge.

The city is also home to numerous salons, Criswell said, and most employees know each other.

"A lot of these people have worked together for years and they loved working there," she said of the people at Salon Meritage. "Some of the employees there have young children. They’re mothers and fathers, and they go to school in this community. So, the alleged shooter has a child that goes to my son’s school."

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KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez and Ashley Bailey contributed reporting, as did the Associated Press.

Correction: Police originally reported the suspect had multiple weapons in his car, but then said the suspect indicated he had multiple weapons. It's not clear if that was true.