9th body found at site of Santa-suit killings
|Bruce Jeffrey Pardo is seen in an undated photo provided Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008, by the Covina, Calif. Police Department. Covina Police have identified the 45-year-old Prado as a "person of interest" after a man in a Santa suit opened fire at a Christmas Eve party in a suburban Los Angeles home that subsequently caught fire, leaving three people dead.|
COVINA, Calif. (AP) -- A ninth body was found Friday morning at the charred site of a Christmas Eve massacre where a recently divorced man dressed as Santa shot indiscriminately at partygoers and destroyed his former in-laws' house with a homemade device that sprayed flammable liquid.
The attacker, Bruce Pardo, reached a Dec. 18 settlement with his ex-wife, who along with her parents was believed to be among the dead. His lawyer and a fellow church usher were among those who said they had never seen anything to indicate he was capable of such a brutal crime.
Pardo's attorney, Stanley Silver, said his client seemed cheerful when he left a message two days before the shooting and was trying to pay $10,000 to finalize the divorce proceedings.
"All of my dealings with him were always pleasant and cheerful," Silver said. "I'd never encountered him when he was ... angry or unpleasant at all."
Pardo left the scene of the killings and was found dead Thursday, of a single bullet to the head, at his brother's house.
The body of his ninth victim was found Friday morning when investigators resumed searching what was left of the two-story home on a cul-de-sac in Covina, 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
Eight bodies were recovered Thursday from the destroyed house; it was not yet known where the gunfire or the flames killed them. None of the dead or missing has been identified.
The bloodbath began about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when an 8-year-old girl attending a Christmas Eve party answered a knock at the door. A man dressed as Santa and carrying what appeared to a present pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face, then began shooting indiscriminately as partygoers tried to flee.
The gift-wrapped box Pardo was carrying actually contained a pressurized homemade device he used to spray a liquid that quickly sent the house up in flames. Police said Pardo had recently worked in the aerospace industry.
Pardo, 45, had no criminal record and no history of violence, according to police, but he was angry following last week's settlement of his divorce after a short marriage.
A court summary of the divorce case shows that Sylvia Pardo filed for a dissolution of marriage on March 24, 2008. The summary indicates she and Bruce Pardo reached a settlement on Dec. 18 and were separated after about two years of marriage.
Court documents show Sylvia Pardo got the couple's dog, the wedding ring and $10,000 in the settlement agreement, while he got the house. In June, the court ordered Bruce Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support and put him on a payment plan of $450 a month for $3,570 that was unpaid.
Pardo's attorney said the man had trouble making the payments after he lost his job in July, but spousal support was waived in the settlement signed earlier this month.
Investigators seeking further information about Pardo's motives have begun searching his home in the suburban Los Angeles community of Montrose.
Christmas lights decorated the roof of Pardo's home and plastic nutcracker soldiers and striped candy canes poked out of the neatly trimmed lawn. A black Cadillac Escalade and a white Hummer were parked in the driveway.
Neighbors frequently saw Pardo working on his lawn and walking his dog, a big, brown Akita. Pardo served regularly as an usher at evening Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Jan Detanna, the head usher at the church, was stunned when told about the violence.
"I'm just - this is shocking," Detanna told the Times. "He was the nicest guy you could imagine. Always a pleasure to talk to, always a big smile."
Two people wounded in the attack are expected to recover: the 8-year-old who was shot and a 16-year-old girl shot in the back. A 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when jumping from a second-story window and was recovering.
David Salgado, a neighbor, said he saw the 8-year-old victim being escorted to an ambulance by four SWAT team members as flames up to 40 feet high consumed the house.
"It was really ugly," Salgado said.
Another neighbor, Jan Gregory, said she saw a teenage boy flee the home, screaming, "`They shot my family.'"
When the fire was extinguished early Thursday, officers found three charred bodies in the living room area.
"They were met with a scene that was just indescribable," police Chief Kim Raney said. Investigators found five more bodies amid the ashes later in the day. Coroner's Lt. Larry Dietz said the ninth body was found Friday morning.
Following the shootings, Pardo quickly got out of the Santa suit and drove off, witnesses told police. He went to his brother's home about 25 miles away in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. No one was home, so Pardo let himself in, police said.
Police were called to the home early Thursday, and officers found Pardo dead. Two handguns were found at the scene, and two more were discovered in the wreckage of his former in-laws' house.
A car that Pardo apparently parked near his brother's home exploded Thursday evening and more ammunition was found in it, Los Angeles police Sgt. Francisco Wheeling said. She had no immediate details on what set off the explosion. No one was hurt.