Two Marines were stabbed and two suffered minor injuries Thursday when they were attacked by more than a dozen assailants on a nearly deserted street turned bloody in downtown San Juan Capistrano.
Investigators said they didn't know what prompted the violence, a rarity in the historic mission town, and had not identified the suspects.
The Marines, dressed in civilian clothes and in town to look for a late-night restaurant, were members of a unit attached to Camp Pendleton that had recently returned from Iraq.
Along a two-block stretch of Camino Capistrano marked by a trail of blood, the Marines frantically tended to one another before paramedics arrived, one of them compressing the chest wounds of another while bleeding himself, another lying injured across a curb, and the fourth yelling for help.
"I was in shock. This doesn't happen in San Juan Capistrano," said Brittany Schreiber, 20, who came across the scene moments after the attackers had fled in two cars.
Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said the fight erupted when the Marines exchanged words with four or five men in a green Honda. Amormino said he did not know what triggered the argument.
The men in the Honda did not get out but said they would return, Amormino said. Minutes later, at 12:21 a.m., the men in the Honda returned with another car filled with eight or nine accomplices, he said. The attackers jumped out of the vehicles armed with at least two knives and began attacking the Marines, said Amormino.
One victim was stabbed seven times in the back and chest and was in serious condition at a south Orange County hospital, Amormino said. He was identified by authorities as Carter D. Carroom, 23. Another victim, identified as Randall Roach, 22, was stabbed twice in the back and arm and was in fair condition at the same hospital.
The other two Marines, Steven Brown, 22, and Jason Mack, 27, were treated and released.
Camp Pendleton spokesman Capt. Chris Logan said the Marines are members of the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment, which is attached to the 15th Expeditionary Unit at the base. The 15th returned from Iraq on July 12, but Logan said he did not know if the injured men had served there.