Beverly White and David Gregory
Seal Beach massacre suspect Scott Decraai may have had mental problems, as well as a bitter relationship with his former wife
A day after the worst mass shooting in Orange County history, details began to emerge on the alleged shooter, painting a complex portrait of a man once described as "herioc" who was in the midst of a bitter custody battle and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Scott Evans Dekraai, 41, a former tugboat crewman who served in the military, is being held on suspicion of murder after the massacre at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach Wednesday afternoon. His ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, was among those killed.
Dekraai was married in 2003 to Fournier, who worked as a stylist at the Meritage Salon in Seal Beach. In early 2007, the couple filed for divorce and became embroiled in a custody battle over their son Dominic.
In February of that year, Dekraai, who had worked on tugboats, sportfishing vessels for Pierpoint Landing, and barges for several years, witnessed a tragic tug boat accident.
A deckhand, 26-year-old Piper Cameron, was crushed after a tow bridle unexpectedly became taut and pinned her against a tugboat railing, according to press reports. Dekraai "rushed to her aid and was was struck by the taut starboard bridle," according to an article in the June/July 2007 issue of Professional Mariner.
He nearly lost his leg and required nine hours of surgery. A detective with the LA County Sheriff's Department quoted in the Professional Mariner article called Dekraai's efforts to save Cameron "a very heroic act."
In the wake of the incident Dekraai was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The injuries to his leg left him permanently disabled.
Meanwhile Dekraai and his ex-wife were fighting over custody of their son.
On the day before the shooting, Dekraai went to court seeking sole custody of the child, but a court-ordered report recommended against it. In court papers, Dekraai claimed he was concerned for Dominic's safety because Fournier frequently drank and put the child "in dangerous situations."
But Fournier claimed that Dekraai suffers from "significant mental impairment" and became unstable and physically abusive during their marriage, according to court documents.
Fournier's attorney, John Cate, said his client feared Dekraai.
"She also indicated to me, out of fear, primarily, she did not involve the police, so there were no reports, no domestic violence actions filed," Cate said.
Fournier also alleged that her ex-husband "is a diagnosed bipolar individual who has problems with his own medication and his reaction to same, and he certainly shouldn't be allowed to have unilateral and unfettered control of any and all medical and psychological aspects of our son's life."
Dekraai's physical disability left him with a lot of time and money on his hands, Fournier said in the papers, and he spent "almost all of his waking hours" trying to win full custody of their child.
"He wants to paint me as an uncaring selfish drunk, but it certainly isn't me," Fournier said in the papers.
On at least one prior occasion, police were sent to Dekraai's house because he called 911 and threatened to kill himself or someone else. Dekraai was prohibited from having firearms, according to court documents.
Fournier claimed Dekraai had been prosecuted and pleaded guilty to assault and battery after he "beat the living daylights out of his stepfather," documents said. Dekraai underwent a year of anger management counseling.
Fournier also claimed that Dekraai became unstable and physically abusive to her during their marriage. He was "almost manic" when it came to decisions about their son," she said. Fournier asked the court to decline his request for more time with the boy.
Friends and co-workers were astonished to hear that Dekraai may have been involved in the brutal shootings. Many described him as a friendly, outgoing, and likeable guy. He was a devoted dad and often played catch with his son in the yard of the home, they said.
"I'm like, no, not this neighbor, no way, he's the nicest guy ever,'' said neighbor Stephanie Malchow, who attended Dekraai's wedding when he married his current wife three years ago.
"I had no idea anything like this would come from Scott," said neighbor Clayton Cornhall. "He was always a nice guy."
On the day of the shooting, Dekraai appeared to target his ex-wife, who was among those working at the busy salon, witnesses said.
"This wasn't a random act of violence," said Seal Beach Police Chief Tim Olsen. "The suspect knew his intended victim."