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O.C. killer an obsessive video gamer

Ali Syed, who fatally shot three people and himself in O.C., is described as a loner and computer student.

February 20, 2013|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Rick Rojas and Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino gives updated information on Tuesday's slayings. "There's still a lot of work to do in this case," Amormino said. Syed left "no evidence, no note, no nothing that would explain this very bizarre, violent behavior."
Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino gives… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Ali Syed was a 20-year-old loner who took occasional computer classes at a community college and spent a lot of time alone in his room playing video games, said an Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

How he crossed paths with 20-year-old Courtney Aoki remains a mystery.

Early Tuesday morning, Aoki was in Syed's bedroom, inside the town house he shared with his parents in the upscale Ladera Ranch development. Gunshots rang out from the bedroom, and Syed ran out of the house and drove away, police said. Aoki was dead from multiple wounds from a shotgun Syed's father had bought him about a year ago.

So began a rampage through Orange County in which Syed killed three people and injured three others before taking his own life, police said.

Authorities on Wednesday released 911 tapes in which Syed's frantic parents reported the shooting.

But officials said they were no closer to knowing a motive for the shooting rampage.

"There's still a lot of work to do in this case," sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Syed left "no evidence, no note, no nothing that would explain this very bizarre, violent behavior."

Authorities said they didn't know how Aoki got to the Ladera Ranch home. She was dressed when she was found, and there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Syed's mother called 911 at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"I think somebody's shot ... in my house," she said. "Somebody's shot. I think there's somebody shot."

Hysterical, the woman tried to answer the dispatcher's questions. Her husband eventually took over the phone.

"Can you please send somebody here?" he said. "Our son lives with us and I think they got into a fight or something and we heard a gunshot."

The parents told the 911 operator that they were sleeping when they heard what they thought was a gunshot downstairs. They did not enter their son's room, they told a dispatcher, but said he had left the home in their SUV.

"He's gone out," the father said. "He took the car we have.... Yes, he's not home right now. He drove away."

They told the dispatcher they did not see a victim.

"I have not gone in his room," the father said in answer to a dispatcher's questions. "I don't know what's going on."

Detectives had difficulty identifying Aoki, Amormino said, because she had no identification and no vehicle at the Ladera Ranch residence.

No missing person reports had been filed on her.

Amormino said Aoki was identified Wednesday morning from a second set of fingerprints, but authorities were unable to find her mother until about 2:30 p.m. Although Aoki's mother also lives in Orange County, Aoki did not live with her, Amormino said.

Unemployed and enrolled in one course at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Syed had "most of the day and evening" to play games, Amormino said. "Most of his free time was playing games."

Investigators are still searching Syed's computer for more information, including which games he favored.

Syed had been enrolled at Saddleback since the fall semester of 2010, and had earned about 30 credits, said Jennie McCue, a college spokeswoman.

Syed took mostly general education courses that would be needed to transfer to a four-year university.

He was enrolled in a computer maintenance and repair class, McCue said.

Syed graduated in 2010 from Junipero Serra Continuation High School in San Juan Capistrano, where "students who have faced many personal and academic obstacles discover their own resiliency by making good personal choices," according to the school's website.

After allegedly killing Aoki, Syed headed north on the 5 Freeway.

Syed left the 5 Freeway in Tustin. Authorities said he wounded one man and then approached another man pumping gas at the adjacent Mobil station and politely asked him for the keys to his pickup.

"I just killed someone," he told the man, adding that he didn't want to hurt him, according to police. "This is my last day."

From there, Syed headed north on the 5 Freeway, exiting onto the southbound 55 where he pulled over and began firing at passing vehicles, police said.

Three were hit and one driver was injured by flying glass.

Syed jumped back in the pickup and left the freeway at Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana, where he collided with another vehicle and crashed into a lane divider.

He abandoned the truck and accosted the driver of a BMW that was stopped nearby.

The driver, Melvin L. Edwards, was headed to work at his family manufacturing business when Syed ordered him from his car and walked him to the curb. Edwards complied yet Syed pumped three rounds into him, killing him.

Syed then drove Edwards' BMW about a half-mile to a Micro Center electronics store in Tustin where plumber Jeremy Lewis, 26, of Fullerton had pulled into the parking lot to begin his workday at a nearby hotel construction site.

A co-worker saw Lewis being chased by an armed Syed and drove to the site to help.

Syed killed Lewis, wounded his colleague and sped away in Lewis' work truck.

Syed then got on the northbound 55 Freeway, where California Highway Patrol deputies spotted him shortly before 6 a.m.

They followed Syed as he exited at Katella Avenue in Villa Park. After driving a few blocks, Syed jumped from the slow-moving vehicle and shot himself in the head.

Times staff writers Anh Do, Kate Mather, Richard Winton and Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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