The manager of the state Employment Development Department office in Garden Grove was shot to death there early Monday morning, in front of a dozen stunned witnesses, by a disgruntled employee who then committed suicide by turning the gun on himself.
Louis H. Zuniga, 50, a former La Habra city councilman who had been manager of the Garden Grove office for three years, was shot in the upper chest. Several people in the office watched in horror as the employee, Fidel Gonzalez Jr., 53, of Westminster, fired at Zuniga with a .38-caliber pistol inside the manager's glass-walled office. Without hesitation, witnesses said, Gonzalez then killed himself.
Gonzalez, whose job was to help the unemployed find work, reportedly was upset with Zuniga and wanted a transfer.
"Apparently there had been some words of disagreement between the two last week," Garden Grove Police Sgt. Bruce Beauchamp said.
The office was closed immediately after the shooting and was to remain closed today. Anne Garbeff, a California State Police spokeswoman, said there was an exchange of words between the two just before the shooting. State police investigators, who confirmed the account provided by witnesses, took over the case because the shooting occurred at a state office.
Witnesses heard four shots altogether. One of the bullets went through the wall and was found on a sidewalk outside the building.
The shooting occurred at about 7:10 a.m., shortly after the office, located at 9738 Garden Grove Blvd., had opened for business. The office distributes unemployment checks and serves as a job bank for the unemployed.
One eyewitness, Mark Parris, 35, of Garden Grove, described the shooting:
"I had just brought a friend into the office, and I heard a shot. I looked up and I saw this man (Gonzalez) fire two more shots at the manager. Then he immediately just put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger. At first we just stood there in silence; we were all in shock."
Parris said he then ran up to Zuniga, who was making choking noises, and administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but he gave up when Zuniga stopped responding. The silence was shattered, Parris said, when one woman employee came into Zuniga's office and began screaming when she saw the bodies.
Most of the office's 75 employees were not scheduled to come in until 8 a.m. Parris speculated that about a dozen people, most of them employees, were inside when the shooting occurred.
Edward Duncan, an employee who was a close friend of Gonzalez, said the man apparently was upset because Zuniga had chastised him for being behind in his work. Gonzalez had taken some files home with him and had not brought them back, which also caused problems, Duncan added.
"None of us realized that anyone could take the job seriously enough to get upset enough to use a gun," Duncan said. "There must have been deep-seated problems we were not aware of."
Those inside were detained by police for more than three hours afterward. Other employees who came to work at 8 a.m. were barred from entering and told to go home for the day. But many remained in the parking lot of the shopping center where the office is located, hoping for news about what happened; some were too shocked to leave.
Most employees refused to say anything, on orders from their superiors. But several of them, milling about, said there had been a lot of "dissension" in the office in recent weeks between Zuniga and numerous employees, Gonzalez among them. Still, none of the workers could believe the outcome.
One woman, who worked next to Gonzalez, was noticeably shaken.
"I knew he was upset, but I never dreamed it would come to this," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "Fidel was so kind and gentle. He must have been more troubled than any of us knew."
The woman said Gonzalez always came to work at 8 a.m., the same as she did, adding that it was highly unusual for him to be there at 7 a.m.
Another woman, who is not a state employee and who was a close friend of Gonzalez, said that she knew what was troubling Gonzalez but declined to elaborate. She did say, however, that Gonzalez had called her house over the weekend and said he did not want to go to work Monday morning.
"He said he was just too upset and didn't want to have to face him (Zuniga)," said the woman, who did not want her name used.
The three employees who did talk with The Times said Gonzalez was well-liked by all the employees but added that none of them liked working for Zuniga.
Larry McCormick, 45, a shipyard worker who lives nearby, said Gonzalez had obtained temporary jobs for him on several occasions, adding: "He was great; he would always go out of his way to do things for people."
McCormick said Gonzalez once drove to his apartment and left a note on his door, telling him about a job that was available.
Gonzalez joined the Employment Development Department in 1969 and has worked in several of its offices, primarily as a job agent, according to Suzanne Schroeder, a department spokesman.
Zuniga also joined the department in 1969 as a job agent. He became a branch manager in East Los Angeles in 1980 and became manager at the Garden Grove office in December, 1982, Schroeder said.
Zuniga left the La Habra City Council in January, 1972, when he took a two-year leave from his state office to participate in a U.S. Labor Department counseling program for American servicemen in Japan.
Gonzalez left a wife and one child. Zuniga is survived by a wife and three children.
Times staff writer Andy Rose contributed to this report.