Three men firing dozens of shots blasted out the window of a Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel, killing a 38-year-old waitress as she stood at her work station and sending panicked customers diving to the floor, authorities said Tuesday.
The killers are believed to be gang members and their motive may have been extortion, Sheriff's Lt. Ray Peavy said.
Wearing dark caps and kerchiefs, the men parked in front of the restaurant shortly before 10 p.m. Monday, stepped out and began firing pistols and an assault rifle into the Quing Palace Cafe. The shots missed four people who were eating but struck the waitress in the head. She died seven hours later.
"This was probably an extortion-driven crime," Peavy said. "Everything points to the fact that these guys were trying to send a message. They were trying to force these people to pay them money."
The shooting occurred at a two-story strip mall in the 1000 block of East Valley Boulevard. Witnesses told police the gunmen pulled into the parking lot in a shiny black car and a white BMW pulled in behind it. While the driver of the BMW watched, the men in the black car got out and emptied their guns into the restaurant, Peavy said. They walked calmly back to the car and drove off. About 25 shots were fired, he said.
"None of them were in a hurry," Peavy said. "They were very cool and calm. They didn't even speed away. It's almost like they were fearless."
The waitress' name had not been released, but authorities and friends said she had immigrated recently from China and was saving money to bring her daughter here from China as well.
Anna Tsai, who works for an ad company across the parking lot from the Quing Palace Cafe, said she and co-workers often ordered takeout food from the restaurant and that she had come to know the waitress, whom she knew as Lisa.
Tsai said the victim immigrated a year ago and rode her bicycle to work each day.
"A few days ago we were talking and she said she saved a lot of money and maybe she can try and bring her daughter over from China," Tsai said. "She was so happy about it. Her life was so simple; she'd work and then she'd go home."
A spokesman for the county coroner's office said they were trying to find and notify the woman's relatives.
Peavy said investigators have few clues, and that owners and neighbors have been reluctant to talk. He said the investigators' belief that the shooting was an attempt at gang extortion was based on the circumstances.
"As is often the case in these situations, the victims are very often reluctant to say anything. They're scared to death," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, a worker repaired the restaurant's window and swept glass beneath dangling red lanterns and a banner advertising meal specials. The owner of the restaurant, which serves northern Chinese cuisine, could not be reached for comment.
Employees at other businesses in the strip mall said the restaurant attracted a young crowd that some described as rough. They said shots were fired at the restaurant six months ago and that its front door was smashed in four months ago. Investigators said they weren't aware of those incidents and were still in the process of interviewing witnesses.
"We're shocked," said Teresa Hsu, who works at the ad agency with Tsai. "We're still surprised and scared."
Peavy said that because the gunmen wore masks, a surveillance camera picked up few clues as to who they were. Witnesses glimpsed the man who was driving the BMW and described him as thin, Asian and wearing a tan jacket. The car was described as a newer 5-series BMW.
Peavy asked that anyone with information call homicide investigators at (323) 890-5500.