In the midst of a divorce, stung by the collapse of a new romance and facing financial ruin, Thu Van Tran saw his life sliding downhill, relatives said.
On Wednesday, the day after he allegedly killed his lover and her husband and wounded their two children, Tran was shot to death by police who stormed a Garden Grove home where he had spent the night.
The 48-year-old business owner and father of three was shot during a brief but fierce gun battle after he brandished a semi-automatic handgun and shot an officer in the heel, police said.
Tran's death ended a string of violence that began Tuesday when a husband and wife -- May Tran, 41, and Khiem Nguyen, 40 -- were found dead in their home.
The couple's 17-year-old son, who was shot in the ankle, was released from UCI Medical Center in Orange on Wednesday morning to the custody of relatives. The 14-year-old daughter, who was shot in the buttocks, remained hospitalized.
"I think he thought he lost everything," said Tristan Tran, the slaying suspect's son-in-law. "I guess he didn't want to live anymore. He didn't want to go to prison."
Although Garden Grove police said they do not know the events that led to Tuesday's double killing, they said the romantic entanglement was the likely motive.
Thu Van Tran and Khiem Nguyen began their affair last year while Nguyen's husband, May Tran, was in Atlanta, where he had been working the last six to eight months, police Lt. Scott Hamilton said.
"We believe that what set off the shooting was May Tran's return," Hamilton said. "He just returned this past weekend. He came home, tried to reconcile the marriage and the suspect didn't appreciate that much."
In addition to the problem with Nguyen, Thu Van Tran was finalizing a divorce with his wife of about 20 years, which stemmed from a dispute over money, relatives said.
Thu Van Tran owned a prosperous sheet metal manufacturing plant in Anaheim, VTS Sheetmetal Specialist Co., which recorded an estimated $2.7 million in sales last year, according to audits. But he was also deeply in debt to the IRS and recently had to borrow $1,000 from relatives, family members said.
Despite those problems, relatives said the suspect was a doting grandfather who went out of his way to help friends and seemed incapable of hurting anyone.
Thu Van Tran had fled Vietnam in 1975 and provided jobs to many relatives who came to America penniless.
"He's very compassionate," said brother-in-law Loi Tran, who has worked at the sheet metal plant since 1986. "I don't know what happened."
After interviewing both children of the victims Tuesday, police immediately identified Thu Van Tran as a suspect. Employees at his plant told investigators where he had been living -- with relatives -- and police went to the home in the 10600 block of Blake Street early Wednesday morning.
At 7 a.m., SWAT officers surrounded the cream-colored house and, half an hour later, knocked once, then stormed it after hurling a flash-bang device through the front door as a distraction.
"This individual had already shot four people, killed two," Hamilton said. "We knew there were other people in the house and we didn't want a hostage situation."
From inside, the suspect brandished the semiautomatic, drawing gunfire from police. One officer was treated and released after being shot in the heel, Hamilton said.
Diem Tran, the suspect's sister-in-law, was home at the time. When she awoke, it was to an exchange of gunfire.
"I thought we were getting robbed, so I dialed 911," she said. She hit the floor as soon as she heard the shots. "I was scared for my life."
Benny Navarrette, 44, was standing outside his house down the street when he saw a line of helmeted officers in black uniforms enter the house.
He heard two loud booms, screaming and the words "Get down!"
"Then all I heard was a machine gun. Ba-da-da, ba-da-da. Bullets were going all over," said Navarrette, who estimated hearing about 30 rounds fired. "There must be a lot of bullet holes in that house."
Michael Sewitsky, 87, who lives across the street, said he heard a "deep bang" when he got out of bed. "It sounded like a truck getting crushed in the backyard."
Police seized a gun found inside the home, but forensic results are awaited to determine whether it was the weapon used in Tuesday's double killing.
Times staff writer Mai Tran contributed to this report.