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Gunman kills 8 at Seal Beach salon

A suspect is arrested. A custody dispute is blamed in the worst mass killing in county history

October 12, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Louis Sahagun and Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • A city police officer speaks to people at the scene of Wednesdays deadly shooting. Witnesses said the gunman was the ex-husband of a stylist at the Salon Meritage.
A city police officer speaks to people at the scene of Wednesdays deadly… (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles…)

A gunman apparently enraged over a custody dispute walked into a crowded Seal Beach hair salon where his former wife worked and opened fire, killing eight people and critically wounding another person in the deadliest shooting in Orange County history.

The attacker sprayed Salon Meritage with gunfire Wednesday afternoon as victims fell to the floor and those who could escape ran onto the street or hid in neighboring businesses in the bustling area of trendy restaurants and shops along Pacific Coast Highway, authorities and witnesses said. The gunman continued firing outside, where he shot one man who apparently tried to flee in a Range Rover.

Photos: Seal Beach shooting

"He just didn't stop. Anybody he saw he was shooting," said an Anaheim woman who was in a stylist's chair when the gunman began firing. "It went boom, boom, boom. I was afraid he was going to shoot everybody."

An officer saw the suspect leaving the area as police responded to reports of the gunfire. The man was arrested about half a mile away and was the sole suspect in the rampage, authorities said.

Police on Wednesday night had not released the alleged gunman's name or the identities of the victims, nor had they established a motive. But friends and witnesses who knew the salon employees said the alleged gunman was Scott Dekraai and he appeared to be targeting his former wife, who was a stylist at Salon Meritage. They said the couple had been involved in a bitter custody dispute involving their son.

The midafternoon rampage stunned the normally placid beach community. Just one homicide had been reported in the city in the last five years, authorities said.

"A crime of this magnitude is not something Seal Beach is familiar with," Seal Beach Police Sgt. Steve Bowles said. "This could be one of our greatest tragedies."

Six people were pronounced dead at the scene. Three others were taken to the trauma center at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where two later died, police said. All the victims were adults.

One of those slain was salon owner Randy Fannin, according to niece Tami Scarcella.

Dekraai, 41, allegedly stormed into the salon about 1:30 p.m. and appeared to be looking for his former wife, Michelle Fournier, according to friends and witnesses. Dekraai is a resident of Huntington Beach. It was unclear whether Fournier was among those killed.

According to Los Angeles County Superior Court documents, Dekraai initiated a divorce case in 2007 against Fournier, whose last name was then Dekraai, court spokeswoman Mary Hearn said. A judge ruled that all contact between the couple had to be via text or email, except for a 10-minute phone call once a week to discuss their child's education and well-being.

At the time of the court dispute, Hearn said, it appeared that Dekraai was awarded custody and Fournier had to comply with several conditions to see the child, such as to not consume alcohol 24 hours before visiting. In August 2010, the case was transferred to Orange County Superior Court at Dekraai's request, according to Hearn.

Fournier always seemed to be in a great mood and enjoyed her children, said Judy Rodriguez Watson, co-owner of the Bay City Center where the salon is located. "She was a sweet, sweet, loving happy mama," Watson said. "She was always showing off photos of her kids."

She said she believes Fournier has three sons.

Outside the salon, which was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape, witnesses described a chaotic scene in which multiple rounds were fired inside the business and in the parking lot. Kimberly Criswell, who owns a neighboring salon, said at least two shots were fired in front of her business as the attacker shot at the man in the Range Rover.

"My receptionist looked outside and yelled, 'He just shot that man!'" Criswell said.

The gunshots, said Riley Riggs, 27, were followed by several minutes of "eerie silence."

"I could still smell gunpowder in the air," said Riggs, a San Luis Obispo resident who was staying at the Pacific Inn, across the street from the center.

Then a man yelled at arriving police officers, pointing toward the gunman down the street. "He's in a white truck! He's in a white truck! That way, that way!" Riggs recalled the man shouting.

As investigators gathered evidence at the white and green, two-level complex, workers from neighboring businesses gathered beyond the crime tape. Some shook their heads and cried as they remembered friends caught in the gunfire.

"This is a shock to the whole community," said Dion Martini, a manicurist at a nearby salon on Main Street. "All of us around here have worked together at one time or another.

"I just can't imagine anybody being that sick to go in and do that to anybody."

Friends remembered Salon Meritage owner Fannin, who was about 6 feet tall with a dash of gray in his black hair, as a man who fostered a family-like environment in his small business. Workers celebrated Christmas together and enjoyed birthday parties.

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