A gunman shattered the suburban calm of Simi Valley early Tuesday, shooting dead a mother of two and critically wounding two others at a tire store before turning the gun on himself, police and witnesses said.
Susan Sutcliffe, 53, of Simi Valley was killed as she sat outside an Am-Pac Tire Pros store about 7:30 a.m., waiting for mechanics to fix a slow leak in one of the tires on her Chevy Astro van.
Her husband, Michael, said his wife of 22 years didn't know the shooter and was just "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"We could have fixed [the tire] in any of the last four or five weeks and none of this would have ever happened," Sutcliffe said, his voice breaking. "This is just stunning."
Also wounded in the attack were Henry John Heeber IV, 37, of Simi Valley, who owned the tire store in the 4300 block of East Los Angeles Avenue, and one of his employees, Albert Ramirez, 20, of Moorpark.
Heeber was shot in both arms, witnesses said, and was listed in fair condition at Simi Valley Hospital. Ramirez was wounded in the stomach and was in serious condition following surgery, hospital officials said.
Also found dead was Robert Becerra, 29, of Simi Valley. Police late Tuesday declined to say whether he was the shooter or to provide information about him.
Authorities said the shooter had used a handgun to carry out the ambush and that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before officers arrived. Authorities said no motive had been established for the shooting, although Sgt. David Livingstone said police were ruling out robbery.
"There's probably some relationship between this business and the shooter, or between the woman and the shooter," he said.
Pastor Joe Schimmel of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley said he had spoken with the wounded victims about the shooting. They described a gunman who was very methodical, said Schimmel, who gathered with friends and church members outside the hospital to pray for the victims.
He said they told him that the man was carrying his weapon in a bag and walked to the entrance of the tire store and shot a customer in a waiting area outside.
According to the victims, "he first went up to the woman, pulled a gun out of his bag and shot her," Schimmel said. The gunman then went into the store and shot Ramirez in the stomach, he said.
Heeber heard the shots and came running into the office to investigate and the gunman shot him, Schimmel said. Bleeding from his wounds, Heeber ran to nearby Newcastle Motors auto body shop to call for help, the pastor said.
Damian Cervantes, 29, an employee of the tire store, said he had just arrived for work and was walking toward the garage when he saw several police officers at the scene with their guns drawn.
"I was very scared," he said. "I've never seen something like this."
The body of the suspected shooter lay inside the garage area during the police investigation. Sutcliffe's body was still outside the shop, covered with a tarp.
Susan Sutcliffe had just celebrated her 53rd birthday a week earlier, her husband said. She had been a stay-at-home mother to the couple's two children, 21-year-old Greg and 16-year-old Kathryn, he said, adding that she had recently enrolled in child-development classes at Moorpark College, hoping to one day work at a child-care center.
"She just loved children, and her children were older," Michael Sutcliffe said. ". . . She was really looking forward to her new life."
They have lived in a quiet corner of Simi Valley -- routinely ranked as one of the safest big cities in the nation -- for much of the children's lives because of its reputation as a great place to raise a family, Michael Sutcliffe said.
"It's supposedly safe," he said. "My wife was going to get an $8 fix on her tire, and she paid for it with her life."
Schimmel described Heeber as "one of the most giving guys I know. . . . He goes out of his way to help other people."
The Ramirez family released a statement saying: "Thanks to the community for your prayers. Our hearts go out to the victims. God be with us all."
Stephan Longo, director of marketing for Am-Pac Tire Pros, said the company didn't believe the shooting was the work of a former employee.
"We have no idea who this gunman was," Longo said. "This was not a disgruntled employee."
Am-Pac Tire Pros sells tires in 18 states in the wholesale market, he said. Heeber's retail franchise was about three miles from the company's Simi Valley headquarters, he said.
Heeber has been with the company since the early 1980s and opened his own shop about 16 years ago, Longo said.
"I went over there as soon as I heard about it this morning," he said. "We're all very shaken."
Times staff writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report.