Police: Gunman locked gates before killing 4, knew his victims

Officers fired at the suspect through the gates and had to use bolt cutters to enter the complex

By Hannah Fry, Ruben Vives, Matthew Ormseth, Hayley Smith and Anh Do
Los Angeles Times

ORANGE, Calif. — The gunman who killed four people, including a 9-year-old boy, at an office park in Orange locked the gates to the complex with bike cable locks and was armed with a weapon as well as pepper spray and handcuffs, police said Thursday.

Authorities said the shooting occurred inside a real estate and manufactured home business, Unified Homes, and the gunman and victims were connected through business and personal ties. Wednesday’s attack was not random, they said.

Police respond to the scene of a multiple shooting on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Orange, CA.
Police respond to the scene of a multiple shooting on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Orange, CA. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Officers received five calls about shots fired at the business in the 200 block of West Lincoln Avenue starting just after 5:30 p.m. The officers encountered gunfire when they arrived and opened fire, Orange Police Lt. Jennifer Amat said.

Because the gates were locked, officers fired through them and wounded the gunman, Amat said. Police had to use bolt cutters to enter the complex.

Officers found two victims in the courtyard, one of whom was the boy, and a woman who had also been shot and was taken to a hospital, where she remains in stable yet critical condition. The 9-year-old is believed to be the son of one of the victims who worked at the business.

Calling it a “horrific massacre,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Thursday it appeared that the boy died in the arms of a woman who “was trying to save him.”

Police at the scene found three more bodies, including that of one woman on an upstairs outdoor landing, one man inside an office and one woman inside a separate office.

Police recovered a semiautomatic handgun and a backpack with pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition, “which we believe belonged to the suspect,” Amat said Thursday.

The victims’ names have not been released because their next of kin have not all been notified, she said. The suspect is Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, a 44-year-old Fullerton man who police said had a “business and personal relationship” with the victims.

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The suspect had been living out of a motel room in nearby Anaheim, and arrived at the business in a rental car, police said. A photo released by authorities showed him entering the business dressed in black and gray with sunglasses, a baseball hat and a black bandanna covering his face. He had a backpack on his shoulder and a gun in his hand.

Spitzer also noted that the crimes were subject to the death penalty. He has not made a decision about whether to seek death in this case.

“It is a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Spitzer said, “that Mr. Gonzalez made a decision to use deadly force to deal with issues he was dealing with in his life. So he will suffer and face the consequences.”

Two police officers discharged their weapons at the scene, said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney’s office, which investigates officer-involved shootings. Both were wearing body cameras.

The Orange Police Department is conducting the investigation into the suspect and victims, Edds said, and will forward their reports to the district attorney’s office.

The district attorney’s investigation into the shooting could take “several months, up to a year,” she said. No officers were injured.

The incident — the third mass shooting in the United States in two weeks — stunned the quiet north Orange neighborhood.

Kennedy Gonzalez, 21, was dining out Wednesday night when he noticed police blocking off Lincoln Avenue. Gonzalez said he knew something serious had happened, but it wasn’t until Thursday morning that he received a phone call and learned of the shooting.

“And it turns out, I know the guy,” he said. He’s “part of my family.”

When Gonzalez saw a photo of the shooting suspect, he referred to him as his uncle.

“We tried calling him this morning, no answer,” he said. “No one told us anything until we got word.”

Kennedy Gonzalez said he knew the people involved in the shooting and had been to many gatherings and family parties. He said he wasn’t sure who the 9-year-old was.

“I hope I don’t know him, “ he said repeatedly. “I don’t know what to think of the whole situation.”

Scott Clark owns Calico Financial, next door to Unified Homes inside the office complex. Reached by phone Thursday, Clark estimated that 30 or 40 people worked in the building. Most businesses have two or three employees, he said, noting that Unified is probably the largest business in the complex, with 10 or 12 people.

Most days, Clark leaves work about 6 p.m., but “for some reason, I guess God gave me a little angel to make me leave early last night, so I was out of there by 4:30,” he said. His staff was also gone by the time the shooting occurred.

Maria Reynoso, an agent at Unified Homes, was reached by phone Thursday but said, through tears, that she didn’t want to speak to anyone.

The Orange violence came a week after a gunman opened fire at a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket and two weeks after a massacre at three Atlanta-area spas.

“How many more children have to die before our policymakers act?” asked James Densley, co-founder and co-president of the Violence Project, which monitors and studies mass violence.

During the pandemic, mass shootings decreased because many public spaces were closed, he said, but overall gun violence — which includes gang-related and organized crime shootings — went way up.

“2020 was the worst year on record for gun violence in a long time,” he said, noting that homicides peaked in the U.S. in the mid-1990s and reached a low around 2014. Since then, the numbers have climbed steadily, with the latest data pointing to a potential 25% increase between 2019 and 2020.

“We made almost 30 years of gains in reductions in homicides, and in a year, we’re now at a point where we’re looking right back where we were in the 1990s again,” he said. “It’s shocking. It’s infuriating, actually.”

The recent shootings have revived a nationwide conversation about gun violence. In the wake of last week’s shooting in Boulder, President Joe Biden made a plea for more gun control, calling on the Senate to pass two House-approved bills closing background check loopholes for gun buyers.

“This is not and should not be a partisan issue,” Biden said. “This is an American issue.”

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., said Thursday that he was devastated by the news.

“We must all condemn this unspeakable act of violence,” Correa said in a statement. “My thoughts are with the victims and their families in this difficult time.

“Communities all across the country are experiencing the same pain and devastation that we feel today. I mourn for those lost last night and throughout the United States. This violence must end.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the shooting “horrifying and heartbreaking.”

“Our hearts are with the families impacted by this terrible tragedy,” Newsom said.

Arianna Barrios, a City Council member in Orange, said the community was trying to get some sense of what had happened inside the office building on Wednesday.

“I am grateful to our Orange police officers for the quick response and believe their actions in all likelihood prevented additional lives from being lost,” she said. “Orange is a strong, resilient community. The victims, their families and all who have been touched by this monstrous act of violence can depend on us to stand with them in this terrible time.”

Video footage of Wednesday’s incident captured by OnScene.TV showed a cluster of police and fire vehicles on the block, including at least five ambulances.

Paula Shaw, who lives nearby, told OnScene she was at her computer when she heard a “bunch of popping.”

“Sure enough, somebody was shooting over at the office building,” she said, noting that she heard about 10 shots.

Tim Smith was sitting in his living room watching TV news about a pallet fire in Compton when he heard the crack of gunfire.

Seconds later, three more shots. His wife, Kim, came into the living room to see what was happening. The couple has lived in their home on Dunton Avenue since 1992, and said the most disruption they deal with on a typical day is the sound of neighbors mowing their lawns. But this was different.

They looked at each other as four more gunshots sounded.

At that moment they knew someone was shooting, but they didn’t know where. They got low in the house to shield themselves. After a moment, Smith went to the back door and cracked it open to listen.

Smith’s backyard — lined with tall cypress trees — is feet away from the office building’s back parking lot. Smith heard a male officer’s booming voice barking a command to someone in the building: “Don’t move or I will shoot you.”

Smith and his wife briefly retreated to the front of the house. Later, he watched from his shed as the SWAT team moved into the building, silently, and in strategic formation.

Smith’s neighbors phoned and texted to check in. One neighbor, who was alarmed by the situation, left the area with her two young sons to stay with family. But Smith says he feels safer today than he did before the shooting.

“The key part about that is that the next sound I heard after those horrible gunshots was an officer trying to protect me,” he said. “It’s scary in the moment with no knowledge, but when you do figure it out and you do get composure, it makes you grateful.”

Bob Titmus, who lives in an apartment complex on Lincoln Avenue, was walking his Chihuahua, Houston, when he heard a succession of pops coming from the business complex.

“I knew immediately it was gunshots,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just a crying shame what happened.”

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