Details emerged Wednesday evening about the background of the suspected gunman responsible for the worst mass shooting in Orange County history. The rampage left eight people dead and one in critical condition in the coastal city of Seal Beach, a usually quiet community in Orange County.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the suspect, 42-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a 2007 boating accident, court records said.
Dekraai was a tugboat crew member and former fishing boat captain. He is accused of walking into the Salon Meritage and opening fire on customers and staff, killing six women and two men and leaving another in critical condition. Seal Beach police arrested Dekraai a half-mile from the crime scene, where they discovered body armor and a number of firearms, according to witnesses and police.
Dekraai was involved recently in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife over their young son.
Michelle Fournier claimed in court filings this year that Dekraai was unstable and physically abusive to her during their marriage. She called him "almost manic" when it came to decisions about her son and asked the court to decline his request for more time with the boy.
Fournier's friend Sharyn White said that just weeks before the killings, Dekraai had stopped by and threatened to kill Fournier and others at the salon. White, who is also Dekraai's step-aunt, said Fournier took the threat seriously, even while others in the salon laughed it off. She said Fournier also had told her that when they were still married, Dekraai had once held a gun to her head.
"As recently as a month ago, she told me how scared she was and I offered to hire her bodyguards," said Tim Terbush, a longtime friend. He said she turned him down because she feared that would only make Dekraai more angry.
According to the Times in an affidavit filed in 2007, Scott Dekraai said it was his ex-wife who was causing trouble by making "harassing and threatening" phone calls.
"This behavior has escalated since I filed for divorce and has gotten progressively worse," Dekraai wrote in court documents.
The next year, a court order limiting communication between Scott Evans Dekraai and Michelle Fournier — and limiting her alcohol intake — was issued, the Times reported.
Witnesses say hair stylist Michelle Fournier, who is among the dead, was the first person shot in the rampage.
"This was not a random act of violence," said Capt. Tim Olson of the Seal Beach Police Department at a press conference. "The suspect knew his victim."
The victims were Fournier, Lucia Bernice Kondas, Victoria Buzzo, Laura Webb, Christy Wilson and Michelle Fast. Also killed were Randy Lee Fannin, the owner Meritage Salon and Dave Caouette, who was killed while still inside his vehicle outside the salon.
Friends and neighbors describe Dekraai as a doting father and good Samaritan, a far cry from his image as the county's worst mass murderer.
Mike Newton is a neighbor of Dekraai and described him as "forthright and friendly." Dekraai was often seen playing in the front yard with his son and his dog, Newton said.
Those who knew him from his frequent appearances at the salon, however, recalled his fiery outbursts with his former wife.
“I don’t want people to think he is just an evil monster. He’s a nice guy, but he must have snapped,” neighbor Stephanie Malchow told the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch. “If he was in a custody dispute, that would explain why he snapped. He loves his little boy more than anything else in the world.”
Dekraai was involved in a tragic accident in 2007 that left a coworker dead when a tow line snapped on his tug boat as it began to haul a barge two miles off the Los Angeles coast. The severed line knocked 26-year-old Piper Cameron to the side of the boat, breaking her neck. Dekraai suffered a broken leg when he attempted to go to her aid.
Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch quotes coworkers saying Dekraai had been deeply affected by the incident, which left him in need of a caretaker.
On Wednesday night, stunned community members lingered outside the taped-off crime scene seeking answers. By Thursday morning, bouquets of flowers and handwritten poems were left outside the salon, forming a makeshift memorial.
The eight deaths in the Seal Beach shootings mark the worst mass killing in Southern California since a Christmas party attack in Covina nearly three years ago.
KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez contributed to this report. This story has been updated.