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Grand jury transcripts detail horror of Seal Beach mass killing

An employee of the salon where eight were shot tells of seeing slayings and fleeing to a restroom, where he heard a woman outside the door vainly plead for her life. Another man recalls the shooter's later calm.

May 04, 2012|By Christopher Goffard and Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • A Seal Beach police officer checks the door at Salon Meritage the morning after the October shooting rampage.
A Seal Beach police officer checks the door at Salon Meritage the morning… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

In the pandemonium of people scrambling to escape the bloodiest shooting rampage in Orange County history, Kenneth Caleb saw a lone, limping figure possessed of a strange calm.

Caleb was staring out the window of Patty's Place, the Seal Beach restaurant where he went for lunch that day in October. Moments earlier, a terrified employee at the Salon Meritage next door had rushed into the restaurant screaming one phrase over and over:

"Call the police, he's shooting everybody!"


PHOTOS: Seal Beach shooting

Caleb heard gunshots. Through the glass door, he could see the scene outside. There were "people running everywhere … a bunch of chaos of people running around," he told an Orange County grand jury in January, according to transcripts of the hearing unsealed Thursday.

Amid the commotion, he saw one man with a limp move casually through the parking lot, his shoulders square, his gaze cast downward with "zero expression on his face."

It reminded Caleb of a man strolling through the park. "I am trying to put the picture together," Caleb testified. "I thought he was a derelict and he just didn't understand what was going on, and he was putting himself in harm."

The man turned out to be Scott Dekraai, the 42-year-old former tugboat crewman accused of opening fire in the hair salon, shooting customers and employees alike. He's now charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the massacre.

Police say he was bent on revenge against his 48-year-old ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, when he entered a side door of the crowded Pacific Coast Highway salon just after 1 p.m. last Oct. 12.

The couple had divorced in 2007 and fought bitterly over custody of their 8-year-old son. Gordon Gallego, a hairstylist who thought of his salon co-workers as "my family," would see Fournier come to work upset by the toll of the fight. 

He also knew the face of the man on the other end of that court battle. He had been to Christmas parties and birthday parties with Dekraai, and a month before had seen him drop off his son at the salon.

So he recognized Dekraai when he walked into the salon that afternoon and headed toward the shampoo bowls, he told the grand jury.

At one of the bowls, Fournier was shampooing the hair of Christy Wilson, 47, a salon employee and mother of three. "I heard him blurt out, 'This is what you wanted,' or 'This is how you wanted it,' and started shooting both girls," Gallego said.

Both Fournier and Wilson were killed. Gallego said he grabbed a co-worker, fled to a bathroom in the back of the salon and tried to hide behind a toilet as he heard "constant screaming and gunshots" from the other room.

Gallego said he heard Laura Elody, a 46-year-old stylist and newlywed, banging  on the door of the facial room, trying to escape the slaughter. Then he heard her lean against the door of the bathroom where he was hiding.

"You don't have to do this, please don't kill me," he recalled her saying.

Then came the sound of gunshots. "I heard her take her last breath," Gallego said.

After a few minutes, when the gunshots had faded and it seemed safe to come out, Gallego testified that he tried to push the bathroom door open, but Elody's body was blocking it, forcing him to climb onto a sink and over her body.

The salon was covered with the dead or dying, he said.

Victoria Buzzo, 54, a co-worker who had been married to her high school sweetheart for more than 30 years, lay face-down in a pool of blood, he said.

Next to her lay Elody's 73-year-old mother, Harriet Stretz, who had come to see her daughter and had been shot in the chest. She would be the only shooting victim to survive.

Randy Lee Fannin, 62, the salon owner, was on the ground with fatal wounds, while his wife and co-owner, Sandy, leaned over him pleading with him to wake up, Gallego said. And he saw salon customer Michele Fast, 47, convulsing on the ground with wounds that would soon kill her.

Also killed during the two-minute burst of gunfire was customer Lucia Kondas, a 65-year-old retiree from Huntington Beach. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air, so thick a policeman could smell it when he entered minutes after the shooting.

Caleb, the man who was lunching at Patty's Place, told grand jurors he became "fixated" on Dekraai moving nonchalantly through the parking lot after the gunshots.

"I was a little concerned that he just really didn't understand what was going on," Caleb said.

Caleb said he saw Dekraai approach a Land Rover and raise his arm. He heard two shots.

Killed in the driver's seat was David Caouette, 64, a retired car salesman from Seal Beach who'd stopped by the shopping center for lunch. According to authorities, Dekraai later told police he thought Caouette was an off-duty or undercover police officer and was reaching for a weapon.

Caleb heard people yelling to get the license plate number of the shooter's truck, but he couldn't see the plate. As the gunman backed out of his parking spot, he was very calm again, Caleb said, "nothing that you would expect from anybody that had just shot somebody or was trying to get away."

At one point, he said, the shooter stopped the truck and locked eyes with him. Then the truck slowly pulled away.

Dekraai left the scene, authorities said, but surrendered peacefully when police caught up with him nearby. "I know what I did," Dekraai said as police placed bags over his hands to preserve gunshot residue, according to an affidavit.

Police said they found three guns inside his truck and seven more in his garage.

Dekraai has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Dekraai's attorney's did not comment on the unsealed testimony.

PHOTOS: Seal Beach shooting

christopher.goffard@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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