A Downey father of three who was opening his garage door to leave for work Monday morning was grabbed by two robbers who took him inside, tied him up and shot him to death while his family lay bound in the next room.
After firing two shots into the head of Louie Van, an Orange County computer programmer, the two men ransacked the two-story condominium and fled with jewelry, authorities said.
Van's 10-year-old daughter freed herself and dialed 911 about 7:30 a.m. Minutes later, police arrived to find Van dead and his family huddled unhurt in the next room.
Downey police said they had not determined if the robbers targeted the Vans or if the crime was among a seemingly random series of recent home-invasion robberies. But they said there were some indications that the robbers may have staked out the garage.
Investigators released few details of the crime, saying they had only a vague description of the assailants and a third man who waited in a getaway car in an alley. They were uncertain, for instance, whether the robbers might have been looking for Van's brother, who lived with the family but has been away for weeks, Sgt. Jim Elsasser said.
"We don't have a lot to go on," he said.
Police said the intruders forced the father upstairs and tied up the family except for a 1-year-old boy. The assailants took Van into the next room, yelled at him and demanded money before shooting him twice at close range, police said.
For at least seven years, the Vans have lived in the three-bedroom home, one of four nearly identical condominiums at Downey Avenue and Gardendale Street.
News of Van's death shook other residents of the middle-class neighborhood, several of whom described the family as quiet. They told of increasing gang activity and flagrant use of illicit drugs in the area.
"It's time to get a gun again," said Brian Fox, 38, an unemployed paint salesman and father of three who lives less than a block from the Vans.
Lyseth Oliva, a neighbor who often drove Van's children to school in the morning, said the family was reclusive. The Vans' 6- and 10-year-old girls preferred to play handball in the back alley, she said, rather than play beneath the jacaranda and pomegranate trees in front of their home.