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Newport Beach mall shooter called 'destitute'

Police say Marcos Gurrola, who fired more than 50 shots into the air at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, chose that as a 'way of venting his life problems.'

December 17, 2012|By Kate Mather and Jill Cowan, Los Angeles Times
  • Marcos Gurrola, 42, is accused of firing a semiautomatic handgun dozens of times into the air in a Fashion Island parking lot before he was taken into custody. He was characterized by Newport Beach Police Deputy Chief David McGill as someone who was “unhappy about a lot in life and decided this was his best way of releasing his tension.”
Marcos Gurrola, 42, is accused of firing a semiautomatic handgun dozens… (Newport Beach Police Department )

The gunman who fired more than 50 rounds at busy Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach on Saturday was described by police as a "destitute individual" who decided that "this was his way of venting his life problems."

Marcos Gurrola, 42, is accused of firing a semiautomatic handgun dozens of times into the air before he was taken into custody, authorities said. No one was wounded in the shooting, although one person was injured fleeing to safety.

"Thank God he pointed up," Newport Beach Police Deputy Chief David McGill said. "Luck was on our side."

As investigators worked to determine a motive, McGill characterized Gurrola as someone who was "unhappy about a lot in life and decided this was his best way of releasing his tension."

Gurrola, who was booked in Orange County Jail on suspicion of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, appeared to be unemployed, McGill said. He could not confirm reports that the suspect was living in his car, but said the vehicle had "a lot of personal items" inside.

Gurrola did not appear to have a criminal history in California. State records showed he was a registered guard-patrolman with the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, an arm of the state Department of Consumer Affairs that licenses and regulates such businesses as locksmiths, repossession firms and private investigators. He also appeared to have a firearm permit that expired in 2001.

Authorities said he began firing about 4:30 p.m. Saturday in a parking lot near Macy's. Frightened shoppers ran and store owners locked their doors as police arrived at the upscale, open-air mall.

Given the deadly shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school the day before, where a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults, McGill said he was terrified when he got the initial call.

All he could think, he said, was "Oh my gosh, here we go."

Some bicycle officers were already in the area — part of an effort to curb theft at the mall during the holiday shopping season — and police were able to find the suspect almost immediately, McGill said. Gurrola then put his gun down and his hands in the air and was arrested, McGill said.

McGill said Newport Beach police train for active-shooter scenarios at various locations and began having monthly meetings with Fashion Island security about eight months ago. He credited a "great relationship" with security teams at the mall for Saturday's quick response — police knew their mall counterparts personally and how they would react, he said.

McGill also commended the police officers for following their training and reacting as they were supposed to.

"They all see thousands of people running away from a madman with a gun, which is what we want them to do, and my guys are the guys running toward him," McGill said. "Our guys did exactly what they are trained to do."

The Connecticut incident wasn't the only high-profile shooting in the U.S. last week. On Tuesday, a gunman killed two people and wounded a third at a suburban Portland, Ore., mall that, like Fashion Island, was packed with holiday shoppers.

On a drizzly Sunday, Fashion Island was once again crowded. Bill and Patty Zimmerman returned with their 12-year-old daughter, Molly, to finish the shopping that was interrupted Saturday afternoon.

Bill Zimmerman and Molly were in Macy's when Molly heard people Saturday yell "Shooter!" They ran and took refuge in the back room of a nearby Victoria's Secret.

Zimmerman said the family felt comfortable coming to the mall Sunday, but Molly said she was still surprised — and shaken — by the previous afternoon.

"This is like the safest mall," she said.

Cindy Nahm, 25, who also stopped by Fashion Island on Sunday, said that shootings in public places were frightening to think about.

"You'd think a school or mall would be safe," Nahm said. "But you can't always be paranoid. You have to go out and get your shopping done or go to school."

Newport Beach Police Lt. Jon Lewis stressed there was "no connection" between Gurrola's alleged acts and the Connecticut shooting. But McGill said he knew just how badly the situation at Fashion Island could have ended, just how easily Newport Beach could have been the next gathering spot for national media.

"It scares the heck out of me," he said. "The police — we keep preparing and keep preparing because this makes us nervous. We can't be 100% prepared, but we're constantly working on it."

kate.mather@latimes.com

jill.cowan@latimes.com

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