Crime & Justice

Deadly explosion at Orange County office building was no accident, investigators say

This image taken from cellphone video shows a building after a fatal explosion in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The cause of the blast is being investigated.
This image taken from cellphone video shows a building after a fatal explosion in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The cause of the blast is being investigated.
Raul Hernandez/AP

An explosion that ripped through a Southern California day spa killed the owner, and investigators Wednesday were looking into whether she was targeted in the crime.

Remnants of an explosive device were found inside the badly damaged spa where the powerful explosion Tuesday afternoon shook the city of Aliso Viejo, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, and tore a corner off the building that houses medical offices. Two patrons were seriously injured.

Officials with the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the FBI released details of the investigation at a news conference Wednesday.

Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes says the formal identification of the body is continuing Wednesday but authorities believe the victim is Ildiko Krajnyak, a 40-year-old licensed cosmetologist.

"We do not believe this was an accident," said Paul Delacourt, special agent in charge of the FBI's field office in Los Angeles. "Although the damage was extensive, there are some components that we have located at the scene of the explosion that are inconsistent with what one might expect to find at this business."

Investigators were working to determine a motive and figure out exactly how the device got to the spa, Delacourt said. No arrests were made.

Krajnyak lived in the Orange County community of Coto de Caza.

Friends set up a fundraising campaign to cover her funeral costs and fly her son home from Seattle, where he attends college.

Krajnyak was originally from Hungary and had just visited there, according to her Facebook page and a neighbor. Her Facebook page showed photos from her home country, including a selfie outside the clinic where she trained to become an aesthetician 30 years ago.

Her Orange County business offered services such as facials, waxing and wrinkle treatments.

A voicemail recording at her business said the spa was closed through Monday and would reopen Tuesday, the day of the blast.

The two customers injured underwent surgery Wednesday and were expected to survive. A third victim was treated for smoke inhalation.

Search warrants were served at the business and two other locations, including the Long Beach house of a man whose Facebook page features several photos with Krajnyak in Mexico, Canada and Portugal.

They also searched Krajnyak's house in Trabuco Canyon.

A neighbor there who would only give her first name as Tiffany said Krajnyak lived there with her estranged husband and mother, whom she cared for.

 

The couple, although separated, continued to live under the same roof, the neighbor said. Court records show they had filed jointly for bankruptcy in 2014 and the case was dismissed and closed Monday.

Attorney Andrew Bisom, who represented Krajnyak and Ronilo Vestil during the Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, said they were far along on their mandated payment plan but hadn't completed it.

Bisom did not know them well and said there was nothing that stood out about them or their case.

The two-story building where the explosion had blown siding off the walls and shattered windows was closed Wednesday as bomb technicians and investigators from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sifted through debris.

Pieces of the explosive device recovered were sent to the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, to be analyzed, Delacourt said.

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The cause of the blast remained a mystery for much of the day, with officials initially believing a car had smashed into the building. But sheriff's officials said the size of the blast made it suspicious.

Bomb technicians and agents from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the scene Tuesday night.

"We have not found any type of specific device inside of the building right now that would tell us or lead us to exactly what the device was, if there was a device," sheriff's Cmdr. Dave Sawyer said.

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The woman who was killed inside the building was "in close proximity" to the explosion, Sawyer said. The three people who were injured were nearby and were being questioned by investigators late Tuesday night, he said.

"Anytime you see an explosion of this magnitude, it would definitely be suspicious to us," Sawyer said.

Mary McWilliams told the Orange County Register that she arrived for an appointment to find smoke surrounding the area and car alarms going off.

McWilliams said she saw two burned women staggering out of the building, covered in ash and soot.

One woman, who had skin peeling on her arm from burns, said, "Take care of my mother," McWilliams said. The other woman was bleeding from her head.

Children at the Montessori Academy on the Hills daycare and preschool were evacuated immediately after the blast in an abundance of caution. Some children held hands as they were led out by firefighters while sheriff's deputies rolled out babies in cribs.

Tony Dick's 6-year-old son attends the preschool. They both spoke with our media partner NBC-4. 

"I mean, this isn't something you see every day. It's emotional, you have parents, you have kids. Knowing your own flesh and blood is on that street, it's helpless, you know."

"When I was playing outside, I heard the big crash," Dick's son said. "I thought it was a garbage truck, but it was a building that smashed."

No children were hurt.

Aliso Viejo city officials said the Mareblu roadway remains closed as authorities continue the investigation.

This story has been updated.