The suspect in the stabbing of a 66-year-old woman at a Redondo Beach shopping mall has confessed to killing the victim in a botched attempt to kidnap and rob her, police said.
Joshua Daniel Lee admitted to police that he killed Diane Bragg, telling them he went to the bustling South Bay Galleria looking for an easy target, Redondo Beach Police Capt. Jeff Cameron said Tuesday.
During the confession, which police said he made Monday evening a few hours after the attack, Lee said he "looked for a victim and executed his plan," according to Cameron. "His plan was to kill her if she did not cooperate." When Lee attacked Bragg, he reportedly wore white gloves.
The 22-year-old had served time in jail for burglary and other offenses. Bragg, a Bel-Air resident who was active in the Mormon Church, had driven to the mall about 11:30 a.m. to meet a friend for lunch.
"She was a very loving mother and grandmother," said Mark Bragg, the second of her three sons. He recalled how his mother took each of her grandchildren out for their birthdays. "It was their alone time with grandma, and that will be sorely missed," he said shortly after breaking the news to his three children.
As Bragg talked about his mother, a stream of friends and family, many with flowers, climbed the steps to her home, where she lived with husband Michael Higer. Bragg's first husband, former All-America UCLA basketball star Don Bragg, died in 1985.
Friends recalled Diane Bragg's activism in her church and with charities, such as volunteering at and raising funds for the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"Entering into a room, she was immediately comfortable talking with patients," said Norris board member Lorna Reed.
Although Bragg was devoted to her faith, Reed was always impressed by Bragg's openness toward others.
"She was never judgmental. She could be equally energetic putting up the Hanukkah decorations as the Christmas decorations at the hospital," Reed said.
Reed said she was most inspired by Bragg's sense of adventure and described her as fearless.
"We went on our first trip together after her first husband died," Reed recalled. "We also traveled together to Hong Kong, and we got separated for an afternoon. When I finally found her, I was almost in tears. She just gave me a smile and broke out laughing," said Reed, adding, "She loved getting in the car and going, not knowing where she was going to end up."
It was apparently this fearlessness that led Bragg to fight unsuccessfully against Lee as he forced his way into her Mercedes sport utility vehicle from the back door on the driver's side.
As the vehicle rolled forward, she tried to flee, tumbling out of the SUV as it continued a slow roll toward a curbside valet stand. Capt. Cameron said that as Bragg fell to the ground she was attacked by Lee, who stabbed her multiple times.
Two repairmen working at a nearby restaurant, Jason Campbell and Greg McCorkell, heard the commotion, tackled Lee as he fled and held him until police arrived.
"He's a coldblooded, calculated predator," said Cameron of Lee, whose last known address was an apartment in Hawthorne about two miles from the mall.
It was unclear whether Lee was employed or what he had been doing in recent years. He was jailed in Los Angeles County for 30 days in 1998 for burglary. He served a total of 212 days in 1996 and 1997 for disorderly conduct and trespassing.
On Tuesday most shoppers called the incident an isolated tragedy, one that would not deter them from doing business at the mall.
"That poor woman was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Sonny Stevens. "It could happen to any of us, and it just shows you've got all kinds of crazy people out there. So I don't think it will stop me from coming."
Bragg's longtime neighbor Fran Suloy, 71, however, wondered why no one rushed to help her during the attack. "I can't believe it happened in broad daylight and people just stood there," she said. "I would have thrown my walker at him, anything, just to stop him."
But like his mother, Mark Bragg struggled to see the positive side of human nature Tuesday. "I'd rather not focus on who didn't help, but on the two young men who did," he said.
"I know my mother would have liked us to celebrate her life," he added, "and for the next few days that is what we are going to do."
Times researcher Robin Mayper contributed to this story.