A gunman opened fire in the crowded parking lot of an Anaheim nightclub early Friday, injuring five young men and scattering about 100 patrons at closing time before driving off into the darkness, Anaheim police said.
The shooting may have been prompted by an argument between two men over a woman.
Two of the victims were in critical condition later in the day; two others were hospitalized with lesser injuries and one was treated and released, police said. They did not name the victims, who ranged in age from 16 to 24.
The shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. at the El Vaquero restaurant and nightclub on State College Boulevard near Ball Road, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez.
A nearby officer heard about a dozen shots and called for backup, Martinez said. Officers found four men lying in pools of blood.
A fifth victim had been driven to a hospital by a friend.
"We don't know if they were intended targets or if he intended to shoot at someone specifically and got bystanders," Martinez said. "For some unknown reason, he began firing at people."
Police said the suspect and an accomplice fled northbound on State College Boulevard in a dark-colored pickup truck.
The shooting occurred as the nightclub was closing, and security guards were escorting patrons outdoors, witnesses said.
Patrons said the tension had begun inside the club, when a man asked a woman to dance.
"He was rude," said Rafael Lomeli, 24, a disc jockey from Hawthorne. "The girl's boyfriend, or whoever he was, confronted the guy. It was going back and forth. Then they left outside."
Within seconds, he said, he heard up to 18 gunshots.
"He started spraying, and you [could] hear the girls scream and people ran back into the club," Lomeli said.
One of the injured men was the woman's companion, Lomeli said.
El Vaquero is a family restaurant that nightly becomes a club, with Mexican and hip-hop music.
Authorities are investigating whether the shooting was gang-related.
In April, a security guard was fatally shot at Chanteclair, an Irvine restaurant that becomes a nightclub on weekends. A second man's neck was grazed by a bullet and a third man was beaten during the incident in the restaurant parking lot.
The motives for nightclub violence vary widely. "We've seen everything," said Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. "Arguments over pool tables, arguments over the opposite sex, arguments over the Dodgers vs. the Giants, you name it."